People with disabilities often face barriers to fully reaching their potential and participating in community life.
The social and human-rights based approach distinguishes between impairments and barriers.
For example, an impairment could be a hearing impairment or cerebral palsy, whereas a barrier could be the absence of Auslan interpreters or a ramp.
A vital part of building disability-inclusive churches and Christian communities is identifying and removing barriers.
In the gospel of Luke, we find a story that illustrates barriers, and the removal of them.
Luke 5:17-26 tells the story of a man who had an impairment – he was paralysed. Word was spreading that Jesus was healing people, so his friends carried him on a bed to see Jesus. However, the crowd was so dense, they couldn’t get near Jesus.
What were the barriers?
- The density of the crowd.
- The rooftop.
- Perhaps the distance between where the man was living and where Jesus was.
Barriers can be:
- Physical: like the distance between the man and Jesus.
- Communicational: like print that is too small or the absence of hearing loop.
- Institutional: like the lack of policies that require inclusion and accessibility for all.
- Attitudinal: when people hold negative assumptions about people with disabilities. These are the most difficult barriers to overcome.
In this story in Luke we not only find barriers but also creative thinking and collaboration to remove those barriers. The man’s friends carried him onto the roof, made a hole and lowered him down into the room where Jesus was.
When a person with a disability is seen and valued by those around them, collaboration and creative thinking can take place to remove and overcome barriers, allowing full inclusion.