1981; not all readers will remember it, but we called it IYDP, the United Nations’ Year of Disabled Persons. It came to mind the other day when we saw workers making dropped kerbs to allow wheelchair users – and of course pram pushers – to cross the road more easily. We had campaigned for these forty years ago. That’s progress!
It’s surely part of our work as co-creators of God’s world to ensure that every human being is able to be fully part of the family of humanity, the family of God. So this post is appropriate in this season.
The UN Enable web page says that the theme of IYDP was “full participation and equality”, defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socio-economic development.
Christian churches should be showing the way forward, and indeed there has been progress. Buildings with steps were once the norm, if only to keep the mud at bay, but even sensitive old places like Canterbury Cathedral have been able to address the access problems successfully.
BUT ARE WE OPEN ENOUGH? I was pleased to see recently the Parish Guide to Disability published by the Catholic Disability Fellowship who advise the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. They adapted a pamphlet of the Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, Diocese of
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania USA, updating it for British use.
While I have to say that most of what the Guide says we were saying back in the 1980s, it is all worth repeating. And I hope never to hear again of priests refusing sacraments or catechesis to persons with disabilities. What is encouraging is the emphasis on the mission of every Christian to witness to faith: the first page cites Pope Francis:
The people of God: “A living community, one that supports, accompanies,Pope Francis (Bulgaria – May 6, 2019)
integrates and enriches. Never separated, but united, where everyone
learns to be a sign and blessing of God for others.”
The Guide will help this to happen; the checklist at the end is a valuable tool that summarises the aims and policies described, and enables communities to discern what’s going well, where improvements are possible, and where they need help to grow. Every parish could do better; this Guide will help – if it is read and shared. Find it here.
Maurice Billingsley, sometime Chair, 81 Group for Disabled People in the Church.