I remember when I learned of a time in the history of Martha’s Vineyard when deafness was so prevalent that all the inhabitants of the island, both Deaf and non-Deaf, were conversant in sign language. As such, the communication barriers that would normally occur for Deaf people who live as minorities in a society which does not know their language did not exist. Therefore Deaf people functioned in Martha’s Vineyard society just like any other residents. Towns on Martha’s Vineyard were bilingual and fully integrated communities where Deaf people held jobs, ran businesses, and served in local government. All without having to do extra work to fit in! I was blown away.
Imagine a place where disability isn’t hidden, or where people living with disabilities aren’t forced to adapt or conform, but a place where being different in this way just doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have to overcome my disability as a person living with cerebral palsy, or wish it away, I could be freely me just as you are freely you. I think that must be what heaven looks like. Don’t you think?
So often disability is viewed as something to be overcome. As a matter of faith, I have been prayed for and told of people’s belief that I will be healed so often it’s grown tiresome. What if I don’t want to be healed? What if I don’t need to be healed? What if I was born to be exactly who I am and how I am? Can’t I be enough just being me? I don’t stop you from being you. Can that be our deal? Can we allow each other to live fully in whatever bodies we live? Except, I cannot; not on my own. I can’t fully be included or at least I haven’t been yet.
You see, your society wasn’t built for me. I can’t just roll on in or roll on up. That’s not the only issue either though that one is certainly important for me. Maybe it’s important to you too if you care about me, or someone like me, and I’ve heard you do. But, I can’t do it alone. I need your help.
Help the world become a place where my disability doesn’t need to go away, and I don’t need to negate who I am in my very personhood, but where my form isn’t limited by the world around me. Help the faith community of your choice, should you choose one, be a place where everyone can get in and take part regardless of the fact that the church sits outside the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (ADA) We should lead the way instead of lagging behind. Don’t make me be limited in service because I can’t get in or make me have to crawl up your stairs. We all deserve better.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you believe, I thank you for reading and considering my words. As for me, I believe we can live in a time where we have full inclusion because I believe in you. That is what my heaven looks like; a place where my body doesn’t have to change that I might be fully who I am. Instead, it’s a place where it just doesn’t matter.