Our understanding of disability shapes our attitudes.

The social and human rights approach defines disability within a social context.

It describes disability as the interaction between impairments and barriers that impedes a person’s full participation in society on an equal basis with others.

The four main types of impairments

  1. Physical 
    Difficulty in the performance of body functions, such as walking, moving one’s arms and legs, using one’s hands, a spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, amputation etc.
  2. Sensory 
    Difficulty in seeing, hearing or communicating and includes people who are hard of hearing or have low vision.
  3. Psychosocial 
    Chronic severe mental disorders or psycho-social distress, such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder etc.
  4. Intellectual 
    Difficulty with language, reasoning, memory and personal.

The four types of barriers

  1. Attitudinal 
    Stigma, discrimination, negative assumptions, teasing/calling names/bullying.
  2. Physical 
    Uneven terrain, steps, narrow doorways, inaccessible toilets and waterpoints, inaccessible transport.
  3. Communication 
    Information only in written or spoken format, unclear written or verbal communication, lack of sign language, lack of Braille or large print.
  4. Institutional 
    Discriminatory laws/policies/practices, inclusive policies not implemented, no budget or funding, inaccessible procedures.

Let’s look at an example

Sam, a thirteen-year-old-boy has cerebral palsy – cerebral palsy is his impairment. He uses a wheelchair to get around. He’s excited to start attending youth group. He learns there are four steps to get into the hall that the youth group meet in and there isn’t an accessible toilet there. The barriers are the absence of a ramp and an accessible toilet. He cannot attend youth group. He experiences exclusion and an increase of disability.

Greg, the youth pastor, approaches Sam and encourages him to attend youth group. Sam explains that he can’t because he can’t get up the steps or use the toilets there. Greg searches and finds an accessible hall with accessible facilities for the youth group to meet in. Sam enjoys attending. The barriers have been removed and Sam’s experience of disability exclusion are lessened.

Jesus made a way for all of us to be part of his family, his community. Through removing barriers, we can enable people with disabilities to fully participate in churches and Christian communities.