For the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about a short conversation I had on Facebook about who complains about the lack of accommodation - the temporarily disabled or the permanently so. It seemed to those participating in the conversation that the temporarily disabled were more likely to call out the deficiencies of buildings, and we wondered if perhaps it was “the zealousness of someone who has had an awakening, that is, this person has not previously been aware of the problems and suddenly is.” And I think that is so. But why?
Why is it that we who are permanently disabled don’t demand the accommodation we deserve, and to which the law says we are entitled? If we are clergy, we might not want to push our luck with the appointment process. We might have received the message, expressly or implicitly, that we are lucky to be where we are and we’d better not make any waves.
Many disabled folk, no matter what our status, might have asked before, more than once, and we’ve just given up. Or the results have been less than satisfactory and so we just wing it on our own. Or roll away in disgust.
In my case, when I first became a wheelchair user my husband was alarmed at this upstart creature I had become, protesting when I could not enter a building or find a place to sit in my wheelchair, or park and exit my side-loading ramp van. But soon he was on the bandwagon, protesting when we couldn’t sit together at a conference, or when a compact car zipped into the van-accessible parking space when other spaces were available, or when the handicapped entrance to a public building was located in the alley next to the garbage cans. But I noticed that after awhile I tended to stop asking, or complaining, as if I realized the futility of it all.
We’ve been in a new town for a little over a year. We were invited to the opening of the new Visitor’s Center when it opened a year ago, but got there only to find it wasn’t wheelchair accessible. We told the friend who invited us, who was embarrassed as he was a friend of the man who was in charge of the building renovation. But to date nothing has been done to rectify the situation.
One of the town’s revered art museums is in a building with the handicapped entrance in the alley next to the garbage cans. I was invited to a reception honoring Senior Volunteers at that location; I respectfully declined and told the organizers why. I hope they’ll choose a better locale next year. I can’t be the only senior volunteer with mobility issues.
I delight in supporting the local dance company, and one of the gifted young dancers is a member of our local church. But the wheelchair seating in the lovely old theatre where they dance is front and center - the very front row. I really can’t see very well, and my neck is quite sore by the end of the program, but I really don’t have any other choice. And the company is so excited to present me with these “premium” seats. The director of the company even greets me at the start of the program. What does one do?
Have I become less insistent because I am less hopeful of a positive outcome? Or because I am simply tired? I do fight an autoimmune disease which taxes my strength, and this week’s devotional is overdue (I apologize) because I am ill once again. But can’t I find a way to continue to advocate with tools that don’t require a lot of energy? As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33
Dear Creator God, Give us all the courage to seek change, the words to invoke change, and the strength to continue working for change even when change seems impossible. In the name of your son, the architect of change. Amen