On July 26, 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. For the first time people with disabilities were recognized as a minority with rights. For all the time before, their lack of education and employment was treated as simply a result of their disability and therefore unavoidable, something the disabled had to live with, just as they had to live with being blind or deaf or paralyzed or any of a host of other disabilities. It began as far back as 1973 with the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which banned discrimination on the basis of disability and only culminated in the ADA.
Churches everywhere in this country have conformed to the Americans with Disabilities Act. We now have handicap bathroom stalls and parking places, and ramps to at least one door. I can’t help but wonder, though, if we would have done those things if the law hadn’t forced it on us. I wonder because of all the evidence I see otherwise.
I am proposing a new law for congregations everywhere: the Christians with Disabilities Act. It wouldn’t cost a penny. All it would cost is a little inconvenience here and there, and maybe a little time and effort in changing bad habits.
Article One—Prayer: All prayers should be prayed in front of the congregation (not in the pews) and behind a microphone. People will always say, “But I talk loudly enough.” Listen carefully: No one speaks loudly enough without artificial amplification for someone with a true hearing disability to hear and be able “to say the amen” (1 Cor 14:16). (No, dear brother, not even you!) In fact, in trying to speak “louder” the clarity is often lost, and that can be even worse.
It is also important that hearing disabled people be able to see not just your face, but your lips. Many of them count on lip reading, some subconsciously, in order to help fill in the gaps their poor hearing leaves. Therefore, speakers must stand where they can be seen, not wander around among the assembled, and those praying must keep their heads up and pointed toward the audience. God is more likely to send you to hell for being unkind and inconsiderate of a disabled brother than he is for not bowing your head.
Article Two—Power point: You may only use a power point presentation if you also verbalize everything that is on the screen for the vision impaired.
Many times I have been scrambling to find the song after the songleader started because he neglected to mention the number: “It’s on the power point.”
My brothers and sisters have learned some new songs and some new verses to songs that I still do not know because I have never seen them. They were only put on the power point. Any extra verses or new songs that are sung with any amount of regularity should be printed out and made available, not just for the vision impaired in the congregation, but for any similarly afflicted visitors who need them as well.
In addition, preachers and teachers should be aware that anything on the power point that is important will be completely missed by those who cannot see it. “I would go over all the verses, but you can see them up there.” No, I can’t, and there are others just like me who won't speak up.
This “act” is obviously incomplete—there isn’t a law on record this short. I could have added things like the length of time we ask people to stand or the number of times we expect them to get up and down, something extremely difficult for the elderly, but I can only relate to the disabilities my family and I have, which is the whole point. We must actively seek the needs of the disabled so they can participate in the public worship with us as much as possible. That does not mean they should not be realistic. Being disabled by very definition means there will be some limitations they (including me) just have to accept, but we do not want to be like the rulers in Jesus’ day who told them all to go away. “There are six other days in the week. Why mess up our Sabbath?” (Luke 13:14)
We are supposed to be trying to reach the lost. Do we only want the healthy lost? The more we reach, the more disabled we will have among us, and the more we will need to make some changes—perhaps even people signing the sermons and Bible classes, and a few Braille songbooks and Bibles on hand to pass out. Of all people, Christians should be compassionate and willing to bend for the sake of those “bruised reeds” among us, (Matt 12:20).
Jesus went to the disabled and diseased; he didn’t avoid them (Matt 11:3-6). Yes, his healing them validated his claims and made people more apt to listen, but evidently it “offended” some people too. Could it be because those disabilities symbolized a greater disability that everyone has—sin and death? What if Jesus had ignored that disability the way we ignore the physical ones?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Luke 4:18-21