Outside looking in: Addressing the Elephant in the Room: Paul Gallaway
I am a woman gracefully aging into the 7th decade of her life. I am a mother, a grandmother, a
great grandmother, and a wife. Yet the most important part of the age-old adage “who am I?” is
this fact alone– I AM A CHILD OF GOD.
God created me, planned my life, and knew all the
wrong turns I would take, which there have been many to account for. He has guided me back to
correct paths and securely set my footing on solid ground. He is ALWAYS there to listen to me
lament, smile at my laughter, respond to my many “why God” questions, and of course to hear
my resounding praise, THANK YOU FATHER GOD!
The world I have lived in professionally
for over 40+ years, the center of the ministry I am called by God to establish, is the same one I
live in day-after-day. This is the wonderful world of Individuals with Disabilities (IWD).
Often when attending a church, I hear words such as: “All are welcome here” to which I have no
doubt that all would be welcomed into any church. Though if I am being honest, the statement is
beginning to sound hollow and the warmth of a welcomed invitation for all grows colder still. Is
this the new buzz catchphrase for the church?
Or does the church realize that in the same breadth
they both say words that would welcome a wayward soul into the building while inadvertently,
through their actions or lack thereof, leave IWD’s on the outside-looking-in longing to be a part
of the body.
I am not declaring that any faith-believing, Christ-centered church intentionally places the IWD
community into a “non-priority” status, and this in no way is meant to brow beat any church
body. Nor do I think that any one church can effectively accommodate all the IWD population.
In fact, if your church attempts to meet all the amassing needs, they will certainly fall short. Yet,
the staggering statistic runs that between 80 - 90% of IWD’s are either unchurched or under
served in church, which begs the question: Why is the Christian church marginalizing IWD’s?
Eyebrows might raise and heads may turn in alarm at the audacity of such a statement.
Yet a brief glimpse of the “if only” laundry list that IWD’s must overcome on a weekly basis to
attend church might assist in bringing awareness to the body of believers so intent on
“Our church has a special needs program” – Up front I find the terminology a bit antiquated.
The label conjures up a nice pat on the head with the intent of segregating IWD’s away from the
“real church people.”
Or the statement tokenizes the IWD community as a particular outreach project, rather than a vital part of the functioning body.
“There is always someone who will open the door” – True for Sunday or special events but
what if I wish to attend a small group meeting during the week?
How do I get access?
If I am Deaf or Hard of Hearing, are there any certified sign language interpreters for the
If not, what is the value of attending church?
How will I even be able to know what is being said? Is it not the “hearing” of the word that brings the knowledge of God?
What if I am blind in addition to Deaf, are the notes only on paper or are they transcribed into Braille? When
will a sermon be spoken in the language that my heart can actually understand?
If I have a mobility disability, can I get in and out of the restroom without asking for assistance
in opening the door?
When I see the “handicapped” icon placed near the restroom door and do
not see the accessible touch pad that allows me to enter/exist the restroom on my own, am I
reduced to asking for assistance?
What if it’s during a service and
there is no one there to assist me?
What if it’s a restroom on a different floor or requires me to go down two stairs? Do they
have ramps inside the building?
These are mere drops in the ocean to the “if only” list of obstacles that IWD’s must face, and to
account for every need would further fill volumes too numerous to count.
Thus, the matter is not so much about a church’s motive to welcome all, but more importantly on how to move toward
the functional integration of the IWD community into the family of God.
Otherwise IWD’s will continue longing to belong to the body of Christ but will never find a way from the outside
looking in to fully being able to live within.
So where do we begin to unpack the elephant in the room, the one under the carpet, and perhaps the one sitting in the wheelchair?