We Are People with Disabilities
Recently, an article in our Temple's monthly bulletin referred to people with disabilities as 'access-limited'. My wife, Denise, sent the following to the author early the morning after receiving the bulletin;
“I seem to be having one of my sleepless nights. One of the things disturbing my ability to fall asleep is that I find myself ruminating about the term in the subject line of this email that you used in your temple bulletin article. When I first read it, I couldn't put my finger on why it offended me, but in thinking about it in the wee hours of the morning realize how dismissive the term is in the context of how you used it. Referring to those of us who have disabilities as just 'access limited' only addresses the physicality of our experience; it doesn't acknowledge the exclusion we come up against as we experience the discrimination of being stereotyped, patronized, and ignored by members in our own Temple Sinai community. It doesn't help when leadership employs euphemistic terms to placate others' (or their own) discomfort; it really just allows everyone to keep their head in the sands and promotes "the suffering of being different" for all of us, instead of rejoicing in our diversity and the benefits of reaping what we all bring to the table.”
First, I want to acknowledge the importance of this topic. For anyone to lose a night's sleep, get out of bed and type a whole email should really tell us to pay attention and do something about it.
We are people with disabilities.
All my life, people have tried to come up with euphemisms for this. In recent years, the use of euphemisms has worsened. Some people do this out of fear of 'labeling us'. Some people do this hoping not to offend us. Many people use euphemisms in the hope of being more inclusive. No matter how well intentioned, euphemisms results in more exclusions and more isolation.
It's hard to imagine how identifying someone as 'differently-able' or 'access-limited' or 'challenged' would make that person feel part of a group or that the group would somehow feel more inclined to include that person. Using euphemisms can imply that disabilities are shameful or sinful. Using euphemisms not only reminds us that we are different, it tells us we don't belong anywhere.
There are some people with disabilities who may feel challenged by their disabilities. There are some people with disabilities who are differently able and perhaps even diverse able – though honestly I'm not sure what that means. Most people with disabilities have felt handicapped by their disabilities in various situations. Some people who may choose to closely identify ourselves politically and/or culturally with the disability community may be referred to as a disabled person, Among friends, we might refer to ourselves as crips or gimps (generally impaired). What is true for all of us is that we are people first and we have disabilities.
While this may answer the 'who are we' question, it doesn't address Denise's main issue re how to make Temple Sinai a truly welcoming and inclusive place for all people, including people with disabilities, Education is paramount. She and the Temple's Education Director just completed a wonderful Disability Awareness Course for post Bar/Bat Mitzvah students. The students toured our whole Temple and made a list of ways to make it more accessible for people with disabilities. Along with education, working together is how true camaraderie is achieved. People with disabilities need to be encouraged to actively participate in all aspects of Temple Life. Our Access Committee and Social Action Committee must take on more disability related issues. I'd love to see all our teens and young adults have the opportunity to work or intern, side by side with peers with disabilities, in civil service jobs including personal assistant services.
There's always so much more we can and must do to be the welcoming community we want to be. A critical step is recognizing and acknowledging who we are. For Denise and me, we are people with disabilities.