Towards the tearing down of strongholds : reflections on impairment and disability within church and society
The history of 'the blind' has been one of degradation and oppression. Even in these times of so-called 'enlightenment', when there is a move towards the concept of 'integration', people with this type of impairment often find themselves on the margins of society, both vocationally and relationally. The interpretations of impairment applied by professionals, and by those with impairments themselves, frequently draw from models which are essentially inadequate as a means of evaluating experience and initiating change. Conflicts arises, therefore, as attempts are made to clarify the tension between 'impairment', for emphasis upon the one fails to encompass a realistic understanding of the other. The person facing the onset of impairment, therefore, is confronted with a situation which is essentially threatening with regard to every aspect of life. Loss and change are fundamental to human experience. The commonly understood elements of 'grief work' present as a useful framework for evaluating the potential crisis of sight loss. Sight loss is described as a major life crisis, which ultimately challenges the individual's perception of himself in terms of personhood. Although many become 'integrated', a more adequate means of working towards full 'inclusion' needs to be found. The church as The Body of Christ should offer a context wherein those with impairments find acceptance and fulfilment. Nevertheless, categorisation and abusive practises have infiltrated life and worship. People with impairments often find themselves alienated by the same reductionist attitudes which characterise broader society. Such negation emerges from a misunderstanding of scripture, with regard in particular to issues of suffering and healing, and as to what in fact constitutes 'wholeness'. The work of Christ stands as evidence of his participation in, and identification with, people with impairments. Thus, he is a "disabled God" carrying the marks of stigma in his resurrected body. The Body of Christ needs to work towards a model of inclusion emergent from a renewed understanding of God's acceptance of those who are "different" as his unique creation.