When I wrote “Can We Talk About Disabilities?”, I did not imagine the response that I’d get, in terms of site traffic. My friends certainly picked a good topic. If you read the article, you’ll notice that I covered a broad range of issues relating to disability.
How shall I take on, such a large endeavor? For me, I can best talk through the lens of personal experience and the lens of Scripture, when appropriate. If possible, I’ll try to include other people. I’m not the only person, with a story to share.
For this story, I’d like to share with you, a very important issue, for people with disabilities. How many people with obvious physical disabilities have you seen in an organized church setting? Could the issue be one of reasonable accommodation?
Everyone needs help; including the blinds, the paraplegics, the deaf and so many others. Are we not to think of others, more highly than ourselves? This includes those people, who we consider weak. It’s for this reason that I like the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Though the ADA brought about sweeping reform; it can’t guide you to a seat in a dark room. Can someone please guide me to a seat? I love the music; however, I can’t see. Here’s what happened on one Sunday morning.
The church worship team will often play soft contemporary music. The music has a warm and inviting feel. For me, it’s an enjoyable experience; however, there is just one problem. The meeting room is nearly pitch dark and I don’t see very well in the dark; even with the dim lighting.
When I arrive at my church, the music has already started and the lights are turned off. It’s done to create a certain atmosphere and to invite people into a time of warm, intimate worship with God, the Father. That’s nice; however, it’s a shame that I can’t see where the heck I’m going.
For a person with normal vision, it takes a few seconds for their eyes to adjust to such a dark setting. However, my eyes takes a lot longer and the place is crowded. I feel the need to quickly find a seat; so I can focus on worshipping God.
Finding a seat is not a picnic, in this environment. I’m glad the sanctuary area is on one flat floor. I would not be thrilled about a church with stairs in such a dark setting. I’d be worrying more about safety than placing my focus on my Father.
By God’s grace, I would find an empty seat somewhere. Sometimes, a friend would guide me, to a seat. Other times, I would walk down the dark aisle and I would brush my hand on the side of the chairs. Why do I do this? It’s so I could know where the chairs are and I wouldn’t walk into them.
I’m visually impaired and I need to take care of where I’m going and where I’m seeking to sit down. Please recall, I can’t locate an empty seat by straight eyesight. It’s why I am thankful when someone offers an elbow or shoulder.
On a recent Sunday, I decided to use my smartphone, as a flashlight. Some friends have told me, of a special application. It would turn my smartphone into a bright flashlight.
As I looked for the app on my smartphone, I hear a rather stupid remark from behind. “Come on, Barry. You’re holding up the aisle.” I knew the voice and I knew the person intended no harm. However, I was annoyed by the man’s abrasive humor.
In another place, I’d have said, “Hey! Why don’t you try offering to help; instead of being an idiot.” however, this was not the place for cutting remarks. If the situation has been different; he’d likely have thought, twice. Sadly, the place was filling up and he needed to get to his seat.
At the moment, I was more interested in turning on my flashlight and locating a seat. I quickly found a good seat, near the front. I love how my Father provides wisdom, to those who need it.
As I sat down and began to enjoy the beautiful music and begin to worship Jesus, some thoughts came to mind. It was about my friend’s stupid joke, for which I forgave him. In my mind, I ask “Why don’t you offer to guide me, to a seat?” Later, I’d discovered that it was crowded by him.
You may ask, “Where the heck is the ushers?” For people with normal vision, such individuals are really not needed. Most people with good eyesights can see in such a dark environment; hence there’s no thoughts of such a person.
However, they’d be a blessing for people, who have poor vision, are visually impaired or blind. I checked with my church and we don’t have any ushers. Even then, it’s really not necessary. All it takes is a willing heart and a willingness to help. Of course, it helps to have some guidance.
If a friend comes by and offers to help, then I’m happy to accept it. I’m visually impaired, not stupid. Typically, my friends can see a whole lot better in a dark room than I can. It would be a whole lot quicker, too. It’s not offensive to ask the person, “Can I help you find a seat?”
It’s likely that I’d say, “Thank you.” How do I guide the person in such a dark room? For me, I’ll place my hand on the person’s shoulder or hold the person’s elbow. You’d simply walk a little ahead of the person and guide them, to a seat.
For a more detailed instructions on being a sighted guide, please read “Being A Sighted Guide“. The link will take you to the American Foundation f/t Blind. I will repeat one point that’s offered in that article. It’s okay to ask the person, if the individual wants help. If the person rejects you, then please don’t be offended.
What about some other type of physical disabilities? The answer remains the same, just ask. Are we not supposed to help those, who are weaker than ourselves? No one likes to admit they’re weak or needy; however, everyone needs help and it’s okay to ask.
Am I exempting myself, from personal responsibilities? No, I am not exempting myself. For me, I was raised to be very independent and resourceful. Did you see the mention of a flashlight or brushing my hand against the chairs? It’s why I don’t always think of asking; however, I am grateful when it’s offered.
If I have been new to the church, then I’d have asked a greeter for help. At my church, we have a Connection desk that’s located near the entrance to the main sanctuary or meeting room. It’s a great place for information about the church. It can also serve as a place to ask for help.
In everything, there needs to be a balance between the self reliance and reliance upon others. I hope this story is of help to you; even if you don’t go to my church. Finding a seat is not the only challenge for a person with disabilities; especially when it comes to the local church.
What challenges are you facing, when it comes to places of worship? Is it really just about the building? What’s your thoughts on the issues?