We welcome Steve Elshaw again today as he shares his thoughts on accessibility during COViD-19 in response to the recent teaching series at The Meeting House, Come As You Are as well as a series of accessibility Conversations at Fight4Freedom. The original version of this post appears here.

A close-up photo shows a person's hand on their wheelchair wheel as if to start moving.  A long corridor stretches out ahead of them.
Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the world in so many ways. Despite the suffering it has caused, this situation has helped to create more awareness about important social issues that were not paid attention to widely by society before the pandemic began. I believe that one of these issues is accessibility for people who experience disabilities.

It seems to me that before COVID, that for the most part, dominant members of society were able to live comfortable lives, in comparison to those who were not dominant members. The entertainment industry could distract people from the social issues that were brewing under the surface. Once COVID started, people focused on survival more than entertainment. There was nothing people could do to fully distract themselves from the pandemic and therefore, they had ears to hear the cries for justice in the world. I believe that one of these cries is coming loudly from people who experience disabilities.

As someone whose life is full of many privileges, including the opportunity to have friendship with and advocate for people who experience disabilities, I offer some observations to think about below when it comes to this important community, especially in light of the pandemic. Many of the thoughts below are from the “Come As You Are” series at The Meeting House and the Accessibility Conversations at Fight4Freedom.

  • People with developmental disabilities are vulnerable members of society. Vulnerability can lead to people experiencing abuse. It is quite likely that human trafficking is happening if abuse is going on.
  • People who experience disabilities move through this world being reminded that the dominant society is not for them. There is a default for what people think humanity should be and society makes accommodations for people who experience disabilities. The framework for relationships and physical structures is geared for people without disabilities.
  • We’ve started the set up of society incorrectly and that is why it may be difficult to fully include people with disabilities. Luke 14:12-14 describes how to start community correctly.
  • Disabled people are at the very best ignored by our society.
  • The problem is that social networks are not ready to embrace people with disabilities as equals. People with disabilities can be defined by their disability only and not the other parts of their lives (personality, gifts, interests, etc). To truly get to know someone, people can enter into a human being’s life story, even though they may perceive them certain way.
  • There is a misconception that people with disabilities need charity. What they need most is love, companionship, hope, purpose and faith.
  • There is a difference between inclusion and belonging. The government can’t mandate or fund belonging (which includes someone being noticed, known and missed). Societal systems are not always caring places for people who experience disabilities.
  • Including people with disabilities can be an opportunity for creative disruption in the church and other places in society.
  • Part of being human is having moments where you lack. Disability reminds us we all have human limits. We can ask ourselves daily: How can I use the limited energy I have today to make a difference? What is the most loving thing I can do today with what I’ve been offered by God?
  • The church needs to be a place where people who experience disabilities can serve and use their gifts, even if they don’t do this in the way that others expect.

Then Jesus spoke to his host. “Suppose you give a lunch or a dinner,” he said. “Do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, or your relatives, or your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you to eat with them. So you will be paid back. But when you give a banquet, invite those who are poor. Also invite those who can’t see or walk. Then you will be blessed. Your guests can’t pay you back. But you will be paid back when those who are right with God rise from the dead.

Luke 14:12-14
You can watch Pastor Lamar Hardwick speak on Luke 14 during his sermon as part of the Come As You Are series.

Steve has light skin, glasses, and is smiling directly into the camera. He stand outside and there are trees behind him.
Steve has over twenty years of experience working with young people and their families in churches, camps, camps, group homes, and various nonprofits. He has an Honours Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Divinity. He has been ordained as a minister, has written a summary of the Bible, and blogs at steveelshaw.wordpress.com. In addition to his work as a Direct Support Professional with Christian Horizons, he also works with Fight4Freedom (an organization dedicated to battling human trafficking in the sex trade).