I am thankful to be witnessing an important North American cultural shift that has been gradually taking place over the last 20 years. Many people who experience disability are part of schools, churches, girl guides, scouts and other social groups. They are part of community life. Some can use public transit. Some have jobs and some enjoy romantic relationships. People without disabilities who are 30 and under have grown up alongside them. Therefore, while many people with disabilities still long to belong and have their gifts recognized and valued by others, inclusion is becoming a societal norm.
I struggle to live fully into this new reality which is angled more toward the kingdom of God; wheelchair manufacturers, medical supply vendors and occupational therapists, the majority of whom are 40 years of age and older did not necessarily grow up with an inclusive mentality. Usually, if I explain to a friend or colleague of the younger generation that I would like a lightweight, foldable power wheelchair so that I can visit someone’s house, use their car or participate in ministry around the world their response is something like: “that makes sense,” “well, of course,” or “obviously, you need that…” Unfortunately, when I provide the same criteria to some healthcare professionals they say, “There are few options like that available and the ones that are available are not funded by the government. Are you sure you don’t want a chair that is more durable? You should get your own accessible vehicle or ask your friends to come over to your house.”
While many healthcare professionals who hold access to healthcare resources that people need but do not necessarily want present partial solutions to some obstacles, few recognize the gap between assistive devices that people need for full participation in society versus assistive devices that are currently available and funded. These people compassionately say something to the effect of: “I’m sorry, I wish there was something we could do.” or “I wish we could find an assistive device that truly meets your needs.” Yet, the solutions they offer do not effectively represent the value of full inclusion, or address the problem that is perpetuating obstacles to full inclusion.
The positive societal shift toward full inclusion has effectively made young colleagues and friends without any healthcare experience seem more caring than most health “care” professionals. For these reasons, I affirm the words of the apostle Paul when he said to Timothy, “do not let anyone look down on you because you are young…” (1 Timothy 4:12).
The quality of life for many people with disabilities is lower than it could be if more wheelchair manufacturers, occupational therapists and medical supply vendors made and sold products that effectively promoted the future of full societal participation.
I struggle with how to address this problem and how best to bear witness to my Christian faith. I know that many times Jesus could have acted out when he chose to keep the peace but he also flipped over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. I see the value of righteous indignation in these circumstances to help more people with disabilities live life to the fullest but I do not think it is possible for me to flip an assistive device because most of them are very heavy and I don’t have the expertise to build an alternative. Therefore, I question what righteous indignation could look like today.