Candidates’ Conference Reflections – Disability

David and Stewart have both been blogging about the Paralympics and both making similar points about the lack of coverage. I confess I haven’t watched any but then I didn’t watch the Olympics either – only what I’ve spotted on the BBC News website. But what’s that got to do with Candidates’ Conference? Well, one of the more challenging presentations was from a retired minister by the name of Graham Monteith.

Graham is a wheelchair user and has uncontolled body movements. His mind, however, is as sharp as a tack and he has a great interest in theology as it pertains to disabilities. But the main points of his presentation weren’t theological but practical and they highlighted the many ways in which we inadvertantly discriminate against people. Simple things like moving around too much when speaking makes it difficult for anyone who lipreads to follow what you are saying. Or the bigger things like not taking into consideration who is likely to attend the funeral of a disabled person – other disabled people and not being able to accommodate the number of wheelchairs.

His main piece of advice was to look at the person, not the disability (something he readily admits isn’t always easy). From a Christian perspective this is not an unreasonable requirement. After all, we should be well beyond the idea that disability is some sort of punishment or judgement. Each person, regardless of physical or mental capacity is accepted and loved by God. We cannot presume to limit God’s grace based on a level of physical or mental ability.

But back to the points Stewart and David make. Why is the Paralympics given less coverage? I can’t say whether it’s an issue of embarrassment or awkwardness or some other factor. But it seems to me that each is about individuals and teams achieving their maximum potential and each should be celebrated. And that’s not about celebrating some sort of ‘second best’ either. All of the Paralympians display a far greater level of dedication and commitment than I ever do. They certainly achieve, in sporting terms, far more than I ever could.

Whether it is acknowledging sporting achievement or simply giving thought to how we ensure maximum involvement in church life it’s an issue each of us should be aware of. Most especially, those who are in a position to effect changes, in however small a way. Encouraging greater exposure of events such as the Paralympics can only be a good thing to break down the barriers of prejudice and ignorance.

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