Disability and Diversity-Access Sunday 2013

On Access Sunday this year I was invited to speak to a local congregation about disability and diversity. Below is the talk I prepared, I did not follow it completely in speaking but it is my thoughts on the matter. I am available to speak with congregations about accessibility and disability ministries.

I am Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas and I want to thank you for asking me to speak with you this evening. I was asked to speak with you this evening about the issues of disability and diversity—I am especially happy to have this talk with you this evening as today is what the UCC calendar calls Access Sunday, which is a day to celebrate accessibility in local churches; it is also the beginning of disability awareness week which concludes a week from today with Mental Health Sunday . So by further way of introduction let me introduce myself as a person with disabilities I was born with disabilities so I grew up with all the social stigma of disability but as I grew I was also well trained to pass as a person without disability; I have also acquired disabilities as adult and been a caregiver for persons with disability and mental health issues. So I come to speak with you about the diversity of disability as a person with disabilities. As I believe you were told in preparation for this evening, I also serve on the Board of Directors for the United Church of Christ Disability Ministries, for who I am the Secretary; and I am engaged in the ecumenical work of disability advocacy through EDAN a program of the World Council of Churches.

In many ways I am still musing about how to speak to you about the diversity of disabilities. (Because of our limited time I am going have to be rather general so please write down your questions to ask later.) Disabilities and all that is included as a part of that is a very broad spectrum, but that does not mean it is relative and we can say we are all somehow “disabled”. I say that up front because I think that as we look at what disability is there is the temptation to make it into something that includes all people, and it simply is not. Disability is a social location experienced by living in the world in an individually unique way, and yet that experience of being  uniquely different from everyone else is an experience that is shared by roughly 1 in 5 persons world-wide or 20% of persons. I also want to say a word about mental health. Mental Health issues affect 1 in 4 families, or 25% of American families. While disability does not guarantee that a person has a mental illness, often times the social stigmas, effects of bullying and/social oppression/discrimination that people with disabilities commonly experience lead to the development of mental health issues—btw I have read some statistics that suggest that bullying of youth with disability is more common then the bullying of any other youth, including GLBT youth. Similarly although having mental health issues does not necessarily mean that a person with mental health issues has another form of disability, many mental health issues have physical effects and may lead to temporary physical disability as part of the mental illness. I am going to talk about later about the specific work that UCCDM and the UCCMHN are doing together. But for now, I just want to underscore for you what these statistics mean—it means that for every 100 people in your church, 20 people likely have some type of disability and 25 likely have or are in a family with a person with mental health issues—and there is likely some over lap of these persons.

If we had more time I would ask you at this time to tell me what a disability is and I would write that all out for us to see, we don’t have time for that, so pull what it is you think a disability is up in your mind. Have you got it? Good, but we won’t have time to share that right now, but hold it for your small group discussions. There are two definitions of disability that I find to be very very useful.

1. “[a] firm definition of ‘disability’ underlies the authority of the ADA, which defines ‘individual with a disability’ rather broadly. A person may be considered disabled if he or she has (a) has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits one or more of the major life functions, (b) has a record of such impairment, or (c) is perceived as having such an impairment. Even if the impairment is no longer present, the individual may still be considered disabled. [Arthur Shapiro, Every Body Belongs: Changing Negative Attitudes Towards Classmates with Disabilities, (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 1999) 263.]

 and, people with disabilities have developed the following definition of disability, which is used in the ecumenical movement

2. “Impairment: Lacking all or part of a limb, or having a defective limb, organ or mechanism of the body.

Disability: The disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by contemporary social organization which takes no or little account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from participation in the mainstream of social activities.” [Arne Fritzon and Samuel Kabue, Interpreting Disability: A Church of All and for All, (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2004), ix-x.]

We are still going to talk about what disability is for a moment but I want to start moving into disability  and the UCC. The UCC has been involved in addressing the issue of disability through an active disability ministry for at least the last thirty years. The most recent General Synod resolution about disability, called “The Called to Wholeness in Christ Resolution”, was passed in 2005 and it calls on all expressions of the UCC to become accessible in the spirit of the ADA. This means our Synod has called for local congregations to work for the full inclusion for all persons with disability–

This includes: Physical disabilities, Developmental disabilities, Mental/Emotional disabilities (including mental illness, brain disorders, autism, depression, anxiety, ect.); Mobility disabilities (arthritis, back issues, use of canes/walkers/wheelchairs ect.); Auditory/hearing impairments; Vision impairments; Temporary disabilities; Hidden disabilities (things people don’t/won’t talk about); Disabilities brought on by accidents or age; and anything else missing from this list.

Guiding churches in doing the work of becoming accessible and inclusive of all persons with disability is part of the work done by UCCDM. The UCCDM has a designation we call A2A. Churches who want to be A2A are asked to work through a curriculum/resource packet to help the congregation gain a better understanding the breath of the diversity of disabilities, how to be welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities, and how to be prepared to make appropriate accommodations when necessary. This resource packet is called “Any Body, Every Body, Christ’s Body” it is free and you can download it from the UCCDM website. The UCCDM Board acknowledged that while accessibility for churches often means making physical accommodations, the majority of work involved in becoming accessible is related to what we term becoming “socially accessible” to people with disability and this is a process of learning and integrating disability etiquette.

Many people do not realize or forget that up through the 1970’s people with disabilities were prohibited from public spaces under what were called “ugly laws”,  confined to institutions (sometimes w/o consent), denied the right to marry due to eugenics laws, and that people with disabilities were not guaranteed access to public education until 1973. As you can guess there is still much work to do in society before we reach the full inclusion of people with disabilities and persons with mental health issues—but there is actually more work for us to do in our churches. When the ADA came into existence it was supported by the churches, but most people don’t realize that the clergy supporting the passage of the ADA also worked to exempt churches from the implications of the law; the result is that in addition to churches being among the most racially divided places on Sunday mornings, churches have become the most inaccessible places in our communities.

The UCC and UCCDM have been heavily involved in area of civil rights for people with disabilities; just as all groups of people who go through a civil rights process seem to reclaim. language and even rename themselves as a group, the disability community has done this as well. The UCCDM through the A2A resources have sought to establish the use of what the disability community calls “people first language”, and that handout is on the table for you. People first language is language that names the person, or theologically the humanity, of the person about whom one is talking or writing before defining that person by their disability, as previous terms did. People first language is the standard within the UCC and within the disability community—I will tell you that some disability scholars with disability are using other terms and the language within the disability community is in flux, but people first language will not offend, so its safe as a rule to use in all settings.

So I just want to close with a very brief description of the larger work of the UCCDM. The UCCDM has fostered a renewal of the UCC Mental Health Network, which this summer changed their name to the Mental Health Network. Some of the other projects that the UCCDM is actively engaged in are….[this has been omitted from this post, please see uccdm.org for more information about UCCDM activities]

So that is just a little about the diversity of the disability community, disability history, civil rights, and how disability is part of the life the UCC. I am going to stop and open it up to questions. 

Why Widen the Welcome?

Have you heard? There is a banquet planned before Synod, and I have been asked to bid you come.

I hope that sounds familiar to most of you. Most of all, I really hope that you will accept the invitation. Yes, I know Synod is coming and there is lots for us to do to prepare! But, then there is that biblical mandate that we all live with to be welcoming and to enter into the community of God, while ever widening the welcome to include all whom God has invited to the banquet.

This is a goal of most congregations. Yet despite the advertisements of a radical welcome, there are some people who wonder if that welcome really includes them. I have from time to time found myself wondering if I really were invited. You see as a child, I had a pronounced speech impediment and I learned early that even when I was invited to be somewhere that I had to do some extra work to find out if I were really welcome or if I was there to entertain others as I spoke. And yes I learned to wonder this even at church. Last year, at Widening the Welcome 3 in Columbus Rev. Lynda Bigler asked in her sermon “Have you ever been faced with revealing your disability or keeping silent to keep the status quo?” and waves of remembering being told I was either not qualified or could not be qualified to serve as a chaplain because I am a woman with disability flooded over me. This time, however, those waves did not knock me down. This time I had learned I was indeed welcome not only at the table but welcomed into the community of God.

I have been questioned by people within the disability community about why I would want to be involved in the church. Its not as shocking as it seems. Many persons using wheelchairs find it difficult to get into church buildings and they feel excluded. Many persons with mental health issues find that people in the church are no more compassionate than people outside the church even as the gospel is preached each Sunday. And, yet, this is not the church I have always known or the understanding of the gospel I have learned from church. As Jason Hayes said in his speech at the last Widening the Welcome, “‘Failure to conform to social norms’ sounds like Jesus the Christ to me.”

Why am I telling you all of this? Because, I want you, my brothers and sisters in the church, to understand why I am bidding you to come to Widening the Welcome. God calls all people to God’s community. God sometimes calls people to us we do not yet understand or people whom we are not sure how or if to welcome. God, it seems does not share in all our human stigmas. So I bid you come to the banquet where we can met one another and learn what disability and mental illness are, and what they are not. Come so we can equip the leaders and laity of our congregations to extend with confidence that radical welcome to persons whose body may not be like other bodies and persons whose brains may not be like other brains. Come let us talk to one another about how to move beyond stigma and welcome all people into the full participation of the life of our churches.

Come to the Widening the Welcome, Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel. Keynote speakers will include The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder, Mental Health Ministries, and The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches. Workshops will provide information about becoming an “Accessible to ALL” (A2A) church, starting mental health ministries, caring for adolescents and the aged, as well as creating inclusion and transformation. Registration is now open and the registration brochure is available here Widening the Welcome Registration Brochure. Please follow registration instructions in the brochure. Limited scholarships funds are available. For more information about Widening the Welcome or for a scholarship form please email Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas at kelli@womenwhospeakinchurch.com

Widening the Welcome Press Release

UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Coordinator: Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary
email: kelli@womenwhospeakinchurch.com

Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Pre-Synod Event,  To Be Held June 27, 2013

Movement for Inclusion Hopes to Welcome Synod Attendees

The United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM) and the United Church of Christ Mental Illness Network (MIN) will offer a fourth Widening the Welcome (WtW) experience. The Fourth Widening the Welcome Conference will be held as a one-day Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27th, 2013. This event is scheduled to be held in Long Beach, exact location TBD.

The theme for Widening the Welcome 2013 is “God’s Vision: The Great Dinner is Open to All” (Luke 14:15 ff). Two keynote speakers are expected. The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder Mental Health Ministries, will speak on “Mental Health as a Spiritual Journey” and offer a workshop on “Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond.”  The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches will also offer a keynote address/workshop. Both keynote speakers have self-identified as persons with disability and/or a persons in recovery.

Workshops focusing on how congregations can become Accessible to All (A2A), how congregations can develop mental health ministries will be available. Workshops such as “Prison Ministry and Mental Health as a Justice Issue,” “Cherish the Parents, Care for the Child: Supporting the Emotional Well Being of Families from Birth to Young Adulthood,” “Pastoral Care with People with Disabilities & Brain Disorders of Aging”, and topics not previously presented at WtW conferences are planned for this conference.

“Widening the Welcome” was termed “a movement within the movement” of the UCC by General Minister Geoffrey Black. WtW continues with its vision/mission:

  • to educate about mental illnesses/brain disorders and disabilities;
  • to teach how to develop Mental Health Ministries and A2A (Accessible to All) Covenants in your congregation;
  • to share best practices by telling stories, learning from each other, and networking;
  • to equip pastoral leaders to understand and provide quality pastoral care to men and women addressing these concerns;  and
  • to offer spiritual support group experiences and worship together.###

Widening the Welcome is Coming!

Widening the Welcome 2013 Postcard

The Fourth Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Conference sponsored by UCC Disabilities Ministries and the UCC Mental Health Network. A Pre-Synod event will be held Thursday, June 27, 2013 in Long Beach, CA. 8am-8pm. Exact location to be announced.

Speakers will include Rev. Susan Gregg Schroeder, Founder of Mental Health Ministries and Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network–North America, a program of the World Council of Churches.

Save the date, more details to come!

I am coordinating this event. I will also be offering the following workshop at the event:

Spiritual Care for Persons with Disabilities and Those Affected by Serious Brain Disorders Associated with Aging

This workshop is a multifaceted look at providing pastoral care to people with disabilities (PWD). This workshop will provide disability culture and awareness information that all professional pastoral care providers should be aware of in providing pastoral care to PWD. This workshop will touch on some historical ecumenical responses to disability, particularly the shift in ethical responses to disability that affect care provided. Finally this workshop will address providing pastoral care to persons affected with dementia, relying on first and second hand accounts as available. (Developed for professional pastoral care providers, and accessible to lay people.)

United Church of Christ Disability Ministry Board—new member is also a WWSIC!

Today I got word that I have been invited (or is elected the word?) to join the Board of the United Church of Christ’s Disability Ministry! Something like this has been on my mind for a few years now so when I was approached and asked if I would be interested my response was “ABSOLUTELY!!” I’d been waiting for it. Now all that being said, I don’t have all the details on this new position, yet.

Nonetheless, I am excited to further the work of inclusion and access for people with disability within the UCC and to work with the UCC Mental Illness Network. I have been working with some of these folks on the Widening the Welcome 2, disability ministry conference planning team this year, so I know I will be working with some wonderful people! So excited!

Since presenting a workshop on Accessibility to All (A2A) at Southern California Nevada Conference of the UCC Annual Gathering two weeks ago, I have been thinking about how to differentiate and express the specific inclusion needs of people with disability as distinct from “Open and Affirming” (ONA).  I have been thinking this because I spoke with a pastor at AG who did not see the need to become A2A because the congregation was ONA. It is clear to me how these are not the same and how one does not equal the other. There may be similarities in dismantling the social stigmas faced by GLBTQI people and people with disabilities but they can not be approached in the same way–I mean you don’t have to create curb or pew cuts to open yourselves to GLBTQI folks into your church, and you may need to do that to welcome people with disabilities. Also often times GLBTQI come to church looking to be accepted as part of the “norm,” whereas this is neither always a possibility or desire of people with disabilities and mental illness so the move to inclusion and accessibility is more nuanced than mere welcome and affirmation–it may mean helping the congregation interact with someone whose mental illness or disability may manifest as in a socially awkward or even anti-social way. I see ONA as a step, but it’s not all the way to A2A. I look forward to pondering how to more clearly convey these distinctions to my wider church community, and learning from the other members of this board!

Did I mention I also started a second ministry position with hospice this week? Oy vey! I’ll be needing to update the bio soon! First a nap!