By Dave Scherer, Contextual Learning Associate
In my intercultural development work with organizations and individuals, I often have them pick one of their dominant cultural identities and audit their day to notice all of the moments when that identity “shows up” as they interact with the world. This can be very difficult when it is the water that you swim in. But this work can be important for people that want to adapt their practices to be more welcoming. After all, how can we adapt our cultural practices if we don’t know what they are first? I would like to model what this practice can look like for you now.
Here is what my day looks like as an able-bodied person in the world:
6:30am I hear my alarm clock beeping without any assistance. I wake up and get out of bed without having to navigate any mental health issues that might be a barrier. I feed myself and go for a run without needing any help.
8:30am I head to work without needing a ride or public transportation. When I show up to work, I walk easily to my building and do not have to feel for the braille that could help me identify the building. I am able to take the stairs and do not have to look for the elevator.
10:00am As a “neurotypical” employee, I am able to show up at our meeting, read social cues, and fit right in to the team without people wondering “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why does he act like that?”
11:00am I walk (by myself) up to the lectern during a church service where I read from the pulpit. While this pulpit is not accessible to folks in a wheelchair, it is made perfectly for me to stand and deliver the reading without a glitch. I am able to read easily and haven’t had to battle dyslexia or other major learning disabilities. I take communion. The bulletin says that they want people to have a “proper understanding” of the Lord’s supper in order to participate. Being educated and having an IQ that has been deemed “sufficient”, I know that I am included in this list of people that can partake in the eucharist. I don’t have to wonder if this means that I am included or not. I can walk right up to the line to receive the bread and wine and do not have to notify anyone to come back to where I am sitting and deliver it to me.
12:00pm I eat lunch by myself. My body is able to eat whatever is being served without having to be careful as to not weaken my immune system. As someone who is not “fat shamed”, I am also able to eat food in public without anyone scrutinizing my food choices or looking at me with judgment.
2:00pm In one of my classes, a student proclaims, “I have a loud voice. I don’t need to use a microphone.” Most of us in the class agree (except for two folks in the back who don’t seem to be tracking what they are saying). This doesn’t affect me though because I can hear them perfectly.
3:00pm I use a white board in a class that I am tall enough to reach. It is made specifically for my height (not anyone in a wheelchair or someone who has dwarfism). I can hold the marker easily.
5:00pm I attend an evening worship service and I am happy to hold my partner’s hand next to me (as we have been asked) while we are praying. I do not have any social anxiety and I have two arms and two hands which makes this task easy for me.
7:00pm I come home and watch some TV. Most of the people on TV have bodies that look like mine. I do not have to wonder where someone is with my ability level on the news or on my show. I do not have to wonder how my mental health experience is being represented by the media. Most of the people who share my mental health status are portrayed in a positive light. These characters aren’t demonized for being “crazy” or “psycho”.
10:00pm After putting our children down to sleep that my wife and I were able to conceive, I go to bed easily in a bed made for my body type. I read a book without assistance, say prayers verbally (because I am able to speak), and go to bed.
You may hear moments in my life that beg for more care and inclusion. This is why we do this exercise. Most of us never interrogate these small moments that can make a big difference in people’s lives. I have now done this with five different diversity dimensions (nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender, and abilities/disabilities). I encourage you and your organization to do the same thing. What would be the moments in your church service that would feel distancing for someone with a non-dominant cultural identity? How might you adapt your organization’s policies and procedures to be more welcoming? What about your space itself? We don’t go to these lengths because it is a politically correct thing to do. We do this because the Gospel mandates that we extend Christ’s love and welcome to ALL people. Our dominant cultural patterns can become a barrier to this work. This is why we need to get to lean in to this work of inclusion more and watch the Holy Spirit show up in profound ways as all of the gifts of God’s children are employed. I wish you blessings on this journey!
The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, Nancy L. Eiesland