This issue of response supplements the 2014 United Methodist Women mission study The Church and People with Disabilities: Awareness, Accessibility and Advocacy by Peggy A. Johnson. Have this issue of the magazine on hand when reading or teaching the mission study for additional perspectives on issues impacting people who are living with disabilities and for United Methodist Women work for inclusivity and provision of services. Consider attending your conference’s Mission u or studying the book with your United Methodist Women group.
The articles in this issue are about what people with disabilities do—the same acts of service and advocacy that are featured in every issue of response. Studying this issue is not about charity; it is about ensuring that our church and society are fully inclusive of people who live with disabilities.
Advocacy for the rights of people who live with disabilities encompasses more than physical accessibility like wheelchair ramps and audiobooks but also environmental justice, ending poverty, empowering women, holding governments accountable and increasing access to education. The stories show how a holistic approach to advocacy is important in all ways United Methodist Women work to make the lives of women, children and youth more safe and happy.
As a United Methodist Women group, this month consider learning some basic phrases in American Sign Language. If your church offers assisted listening devices, make sure words are visible on any screens used. Explore ways your church can be more welcoming during worship and other services. Reach out to a mental health awareness group in your community and discuss ways you can work together, or host a letter-writing or phone bank to let your U.S. Senators know you want the Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Have you ever considered a correlation between income and disabilities? “The Fight for Full Inclusion” by Paul Jeffrey and “Poverty’s Link to Disabilities” by Karen Heinicke-Motsch present this perspective. Anyone at any time can be stricken with a disability, but prevention and suffering differ based on socioeconomic circumstances. Use this issue as an opportunity to learn about how poverty makes certain populations more susceptible to disabilities when they occur from lack of proper medical attention or lack of educational resources. Treatment, services, transportation, etc., is more available for those with means than those without. Can your United Methodist Women group raise this awareness?
In closing, think about the images you see (or don’t see) of differently abled individuals. Make a push this month for more portrayal of differently abled individuals in television, movies, advertising and books—not with the focus on their disability but as a “regular” character who just happens to be living, loving, dreaming, being just like others of any ability level, all loved by God.