Improving the religious life of persons with disabilities

Two years ago Dialogue issued a call for papers which asked interested persons to respond to the following question: “What relationship(s) do persons with disabilities negotiate with both the institutional Church and the Mormon folk?” Our decision to run a series of articles on this topic derived from the suggestion of a member of our board of directors who has an autistic son. As you can see from the following list of subsidiary questions which our call proposed, we hoped the consequent submissions would be wide ranging in their consideration:

Authors are particularly invited to submit articles and essays addressing aspects of these questions:

  • Given that persons with disabilities and their caretakers are often sensitive, what terminology is appropriate?
  • What differences are there in the problems facing the physically disabled and the mentally impaired?
  • What are the theological implications of persons with disabilities? What are the moral implications?
  • What programs and social services for persons with disabilities are provided by the Church? Which seem successful and which less so? What is missing?
  • What attitudes do Mormon folk show toward persons with disabilities?
  • What is being done to improve the lot of persons with disabilities among the Mormons? What more could be done?

Unfortunately, this appears to be a topic on which very few people wish to write. We have published a single essay, and we have another likely essay in the process of extensive editing–not an abundant harvest for a period of two years. My conversations with people lead me to believe that, except for those who know a person with disabilities closely, many Latter-day Saints would prefer to ignore the topic. Furthermore, as far as I am aware, the Church has no guidelines by which stakes and wards can provide special classes, lessons, and activities for persons with disabilities.

However, I am aware of local congregations where leaders and friends have rallied around the caretakers of seriously disabled persons and have given help and emotional support. That is what happened in the case of the young woman featured in the single essay on this topic that Dialogue has published (Francine Russell Bennion, “Religion and Natasha McDonald,” 38, no. 2 [Summer, 2005]: 109-22). You may read this essay in the Excerpts section of our website.

The faith of this severely disabled young woman is remarkable, both for its fervor and for the comfort she derives from it. It is remarkable, too, not only for the devotion it demonstrates on the part of Natasha’s close relatives but for the accommodating attitude of local Church leaders who have made it possible for Natasha to receive her endowment and to participate in the baptism of the dead.

I am personally aware of a ward where, by an unspoken agreement, the congregation makes it possible for an autistic child and his parents to participate in Sunday meetings. Friends allow the parents to fulfill their callings by tending the twelve-year-old boy as required. Sometimes he attends much of a sacrament meeting, lying on a bench with a ward member at either end. Sometimes he crawls over the back of the bench ahead and has to be brought back. Speakers and listeners accept these disturbances with admirable patience. If he becomes too noisy or restless, one of the caretakers takes him into the halls, where in any event he typically spends the periods devoted to Sunday School and Primary. Taking turns, a parent or friend follows him in the halls and into empty rooms. Sometimes he bolts outside, and the caretaker follows and brings him back. The net result is a more normal ward life for his parents and an additional safe place for the boy to go and be. Although the boy doesn’t speak, in the opinion of one of the caretakers, he absorbs the spirit of worship by being present in sacrament meeting.

I am sorry to say that, as I also know, there are congregations whose leaders and members appear unwilling to accommodate persons like Natasha and the autistic boy. There are those who insist on decorum and procedure as the essence of worship and will not tolerate any breach of those qualities. I regret their rigor. As far as I am concerned, the good people who do whatever is required to enrich the religious experience of persons with disabilities engage in worship in its finest form.

Comments

  1. This is definitely a tough issue, Levi. Tough because we are uncomfortable, tough because we are guilty and tough because we are impotent. It is much easier to think and focus on other things…that is unless one is in the immediate situation. We do have the hope of the resurrection, but the intervening time is so long.

    I guess we hope for thoughtful leaders and continue to tell the stories of those who inspire us by their Christ like devotion.

  2. Christ-like devotion? Christ never did much to care for the sick or the afflicted. He just healed them.

  3. John Mansfield says:

    I have trouble recognizing the Church that Levi Peterson describes above. My wife and I both come from hometowns where a child with significant physical disability was part of the ward. In our current ward, as in the last two in two other states, there are families with children who will never be self-sustaining. (In the first ward we lived in together, there was not.) It has made us conscious that bringing children to life is a commitment of unknowable extent.

    The disabled Saints in these wards I have been part of have been made part of the Church community and cared for and their families assisted in the manner of Mr. Peterson’s two examples, examples he thinks exceptional. It is not all done with unspoken agreements either. People can openly co-ordinate, even with a formal calling in one case. The congregations he says he knows that “insist on decorum and procedure as the essence of worship” are the ones that are unknown to me. I can’t think of any for which that characterization would be remotely valid. Mr. Peterson’s world is rather different from mine.

    He also apparently doesn’t know any ward or stake auxiliary leaders who can inform him of Church guidelines for serving disabled Saints. This isolation may account for the lack of useful responses falling into the net his magazine spread. It is disappointing to find a journal of Mormon thought so cut off a large portion from Mormon thinking.

  4. Interesting topic, I have given some thought to this since gaining a brother-in-law with downs syndrome. My initial thought is that the church adapts individually to the needs of those handicapped (and I think there is a great differene between mental & Physical). Individually adapting is wonderful because it meets the differing needs & abilities of those with a handicap. But with individual solutions, you have individual success and individual failures. My inlaws have seen both, without ever moving wards. Some leaders have been great at including him and helping others to gain charity (without pity) as well. Although he is 18, he passes the sacrament each week, still going to the same rows. When they have travelled, all of the wards he has attended have let him participate as well (going to the same rows – down the right side). This is wonderful, and makes him feel included and valuable. another leader, in their ward at home, forbade my Brother in law from attending Young Mens. My Father in law offered to attend the activities to manage and meetings as well (if needed, he usually does very well). No dice. My FIL knew my BIL’s limitations (ie no 50 mile hikes) but felt he could participate in many activities (softball, trip to fire station). Nope, he wasn’t allowed.

    I have heard that there is a Seminary program in Utah county focused on those with mental disabilities (east of BYU). I would be interested to find out more about this.

  5. John Mansfield, I believe Levi did describe several instancances of congregations adapting to the benefit of the disabled. It was only in his last paragraph that he mentioned awareness of some exceptions to this. I’m sure there are those exceptions, sadly; however, the questions he asked for are interesting. I didn’t see any of the questions as implying that nothing is being done. I see them as asking what is happening now and what could we do better. That is something we should always be asking, regardless of the situation, No? And perhaps the answers are that the saints minister superlatively.

  6. I agree with John M. I have not moved wards but have had several opportunities to help and see others help those who are disabilitied. We had a severly mentally retarded (challenged) boy who each H.P. took turns walking the halls, following him around etc each week so his parents could attend their meetings. We have an autistic boy presently who is also lovenly cared for. I home teach a wheel-chaired sister. We take turns bringing her to her meetings. Others fuss over her, help her to her meetings and make her as comfortable as possible. We previously had another brother who was severly disabled that was accommadated each week.

    I see loving saints extending their Christlike love to others. I’m not familiar with wards or attitudes that ignore, exclude or treat them in any way other than with love. I’m sorry for those who do, or have.

  7. Put me in the camp of seeing nothing but love and accomodation for those members with disabilities. I have been in wards with deaf children and those severely handicapped. All were completely accomodated by the ward family.

    In my current ward there is a 8 year old who had a stroke. He has his own called and set apart individual primary teacher!!

    I am wondering based on my personal Exp what is driving this original post? Is there a fundamental failing of disabled LDS members that I somehow missed?

  8. It is disappointing to find a journal of Mormon thought so cut off a large portion from Mormon thinking.

    I often feel that way about some “Mormon” culture related publications.

    But, it robs them of fire to be in contact with reality.

  9. Last Lemming says:

    I have a 20-year old son with Down’s syndrome who does not speak. We have lived in three different wards during his lifetime. The leaders in all three have been entirely tolerant of his presence (not that his behavior has ever been all that challenging). There has been little active outreach, however. If we want him to get anything out of church other than learning to be reverent, we have to facilitate it ourselves.

    One ward called an assistant scoutmaster to work with him, but the guy had no clue what to do and rarely showed up. I tried to facilitate scouts myself, but that requires some preparation. I was unsuccessful in getting the scout leaders to tell me in advance what they would be doing, so I frequently had think of ways to involve my son on the fly. Sometimes it simply wasn’t possible.

    I once home taught a family whose daughter, although verbal, was at least as disabled as my son. She loved to talk about a certain Primary teacher who had worked with her one-on-one and clearly had a spiritual impact. If only every ward had somebody like that teacher.

    Incidentally, my mom taught a special needs Seminary class in Logan for several years.

  10. For several years, my husband and I attended a ward in northern California in which a retired school teacher with special needs training was called specifically to act as the Sunday caregiver to a young boy with severe autism. She served during all meetings every Sunday. It was great–she was able to provide a real service, the child’s parents were able to relax for a few hours, and the boy was able to go to Primary with his peers.

  11. “But, it robs them of fire to be in contact with reality.”

    If your only reality is a large ward in a wealthy country, then it’s easy to deal with the issue. There are no transportation problems, since government disability payments provide for a special van or whatever other transportation is needed to get the disabled person to church. And you can have volunteers or assignees work one-on-one with the disabled person; after all, there are so many trustworthy, able-bodied people just sitting right there in the building on Sunday willing to help out! It’s easy!

    There is another reality going on simultaneously in other places. When I was a missionary, 6 years ago, I taught a very eager-to-learn, eager-to-join mother/daughter pair. When I approached the mission president to ask what accommodations would be available for the daughter, who was in a wheelchair, he told me that I must stop teaching her. He would not allow her to be baptized. His reasoning was that she would almost certainly become inactive very soon because it was so difficult to get her to church. If the mother wanted to be baptized, she could. But not the daughter.

    Neither that family nor any of the local members had cars, and public transportation was an enormous challenge–the mother alone could not lift her daughter into the public bus. (The government of that country did not provide special busses with wheelchair lifts or anything like that.) I suggested that the few members who lived relatively nearby might be willing to help out with lifting the daughter into the bus; at least we might try asking them. I was told that would be an unnecessary burden on those members, and that I must simply stop teaching the daughter.

    It was a heartbreaking experience to have to explain to them as compassionately as possible that the mission president had determined that the daughter’s physical limitations would prevent her from making and keeping sacred covenants she was mentally and spiritually more than ready to make. In fact, the mother was so incensed at this that she no longer wanted to be baptized. She insisted that she would be baptized when her daughter was, and no sooner.

    I stayed in contact with the pair of them. As soon as a new mission president came along, they both got baptized. They still attend church periodically (which is more than I can say for most converts from that area who joined around the same time), and the members living nearby help them get to church. They very frequently have members and missionaries in their home, and they very much enjoy their association with the church.

  12. Beijing, what you basically stated was that the local church coped well and was supportive. I don’t see the fire in that.

    There is another reality going on simultaneously in other places Some of which I saw having lived in Newfoundland, Saudia, rural Texas and other places, and my wife speaking two Portuguese dialects she tells me about others.

    My parents served missions to Kenya, Philippines, Korea and Washington, D.C. I went to upstate New York, one brother went to England, one to Billings, Mondana, my sister to Chile.

    A good friend had come home early from a mission when he was young, went back out again in law school. He found the world imperfect both times, but coped better when he was older.

    It is difficult for us to live in an imperfect world, with people who make mistakes. The scriptures state that the angels cry night and day before God to be allowed to do something about it, but he restrains them to give us time to repent and fulfill our lives.

    Interesting stuff.

  13. The wards I have been in have been pretty good at accommodating those with disabilities, but I think there is a real challenge in making any sort of comprehensive or systemic statements on this topic. People’s experience and opinions are limited to what they’ve seen, and I don’t think there is much data that would permit a broader view.

    For all the statistics LDS units collect and submit, I don’t believe any of it relates to those with disabilities. Whether those with disabilities are well served or not at the local level is thus entirely unobserved by senior leaders. Which is not to say they don’t care, just that there is nothing but anecdotal information available to guide them on the issue.

  14. I don’t feel I have had extensive experience in this field, but my limited experiences make me wonder if we might generalize: people with physical handicaps are generally taken care of, to some extent because they can be their own advocates, while the mentally disabled, being less able to fend for themselves verbally, and perhaps being more of a mystery to general members, are more easily ignored.

    My experience in Japanese branches: blind man (whose parents actually told his relatives he had died because it was considered so shameful to have a disability in the family) met the missionaries, had them walk him to church until he knew the route, and has, for many years been a pillar in his branch. He is not ignored, he is not regarded with pity; he is respected and he takes care of himself.

    In another branch, a slightly mentally-disabled sister (well, I am really not too sure if she was ever baptized, but she had been attending church for many years) was barely tolerated by fellow saints. She did have some unorthodox habits: repeating the last few words of every sentence in talks, sometimes responding to talks very loudly, singing poorly: off-tune and off-rhythym. Sisters, (the people with whom I spent most time) tried to ignore the woman, tried to avoid her, tried to keep her from participating in RS musical numbers. Personally, this sister was my favorite person in the branch: she was enthusastic and glad to be there. She was not secretly judgemental, but would tell you exactly what she thought.

    In my current branch (in the US), we have an autistic boy. Unfortunatly, no one makes any effort to make church meaningful for him, they just try to keep him in primary. Once he has broken out a few times, he is handed back to his mom. It seems a disaster to me (for mom and son), but I am sure that people feel there is no other person who can be spared to devote all their time to him. A new investigator, an 8 year old girl in a wheelchair, has started to come. People seem very happy to have her around–she needs no extra personal. She is never unruly.

    Am I wrong? Perhaps there is no generalizable statement we can make regarding this, it just seems that people throw up their hands when it comes to mental challenges, but not physical ones.

  15. We all suffer in dealing with those we do not understand.

  16. I’d be interested to hear from someone who belongs to a deaf branch like the one in our stake. In our recent stake conference there was a separate chorister who signed the hymns, a part of the choir that signed and the Stake President signed a message specifically to that portion of the audience. I’m aware that not all deaf people feel they have a disability or at least that is what I’ve heard. Still, I was impressed by the level of involvement and participation that took place in this particular meeting.

  17. “Beijing, what you basically stated was that the local church coped well and was supportive. I don’t see the fire in that.”

    The fire stems from the priesthood leader’s command to withhold the gospel from her because she was physically disabled. Maybe you think that’s an appropriate response to the situation, not worth getting fired up over. In that case, we disagree.

  18. My husband has been confined to a wheelchair for many years. Because of his outgoing nature, he hasn’t been “invisible” at church, as he often is in general. However, there are limitations placed on his progression because of his wheelchair: in the last 2 wards we’ve been part of, there are no ramps or elevators to give him access to the stand, or to the upstairs bishopric offices. Hence, no callings that would require him to attend meetings upstairs, and no participation in the choir (music is a great love of his, so this is the one that saddens him the most). Another interesting bit: the Elders Quorum in both wards met upstairs. In the first ward, they seriously considered advancing my husband to High Priest so he could attend their meetings in the chapel. It took stake leaders to remind them that HP ordinations are not done simply out of age or convenience. In our current ward, they moved their meeting place down to one end of the cultural hall so he’d be able to attend. It made for some awkward comments, as many elders didn’t like the move and weren’t aware of the reason, but at least he can attend now. Members regularly offer to help lift his chair up onto the stand in the chapel when the need arises, but this is uncomfortable for him so he chooses to use a hand-mike and stay down in front. It has been our experience that members are very helpful and rarely condescending when they offer assistance; we just need to articulate specifically what his needs are.

  19. Several years ago, my wife had a medical condition which resulted in losing her voice for nearly a year. The church-related thing that bothered us the most was that the nearest temple had no arrangements for people in her situation, so she was unable to attend.

  20. Beijing (No. 11), that *is* outrageous. No wonder the mother was angry; it’s amazing the two were ever baptized after that.

    I have an autistic brother, and an autistic son (4 years old). I remember when I was growing up my brother was given his own Sunday School teacher. They had a very sweet relationship.

    My son has his own Primary worker — this wonderful brother has a stake calling but got special permission to have the additional calling to work with my son. They get along great. They spend as much time as possible in the regular Primary class, but sometimes they just need to get a drink or wander the halls. Sacrament Mtg. is such a trial for us; it’s a relief to hand my boy over to someone else (and someone who is happy to see him!) for the rest of church.

    I can’t think of anyone in the ward who has even looked crosswise at us because of my son’s behavior, and I am very grateful.

  21. Re: 16 / danithew:

    I am a member of the Utah Valley Ward for the Deaf located in southwest Provo. The ward numbers nearly 350 members (Deaf parents/non-deaf children families, non-deaf parents/Deaf children families, Deaf singles, Deaf and Deaf/non-deaf newlymarrieds, and a few non-deaf families) and almost all of the presidents of the major auxilaries (Bb, HP, EQ, RS, SS, WML, YW) are Deaf; Primary and YM are the only two with a non-deaf president.

    I post hesistantly here because, just as you said, Deaf Latter-day Saints—and Deaf people in general—do not view themselves as a disability minority, but as a linguistic minority. (In fact, ‘Deaf’ is capitalized here as a cultural label—one might be ‘D’eaf just as one might be a ‘N’ative ‘A’merican or ‘C’hinese—and not an audiological/disability label.) It has been my experience (both as a missionary—I served in six North American missions—and as an observer) that members of the Church have a difficult time adapting its programs to members with disabilities.

    Our ward fortunately (similar to the two other wards for the Deaf in SLC) enjoys a very accepting, integrated relationship with the stake. We currently have a Deaf high councilor who delivers his monthly address via the services of an interpreter who provides spoken interpretation. One of the members of the stake presidency has two Deaf children and conducts temple recommend interviews in the members’ native language. The ward has had (though time and patience certainly have been required) a long relationship with the Provo Temple and has several dedicated set-apart workers to provide services. In short, when language is not held up a barrier, Deaf members of the Church function as primary presidents, bishops, and temple sealers.

    This situation is highly irregular, unfortunately, when placed in the context of other smaller dependent groups-within-wards and branches throughout the Church. While Deaf leaders across the Church are, by and large, competent and salient shepherds, their ward and stake leaders often treat them as invalids, nuisances, and incapables. And although well-meaning, this perspective can often be compounded by non-deaf members who are either untrained or misinformed about the language and needs of Deaf people.

    The issue of using (or, more correctly, not being able to use) female interpreters in priesthood meetings/ordinances has plagued several smaller branches and groups over the past few years. Generally speaking, the average interpreter demographic is female and 35+ y/o. In many cases, there simply are no male interpreters worthy, able, or either. Historically, in visiting branches and wards throughout the Church, several General Authorities have dismissed female interpreters—read: the *sole* manner of distributing counsel to the local Deaf membership—outright from meetings and informed leadership of their intolerance of the practice. Exposure and ubiquity certainly will help leaders adapt better, but this and other types of intolerance can make it difficult for Deaf members to be “nourished by the good word of God.”

    This might be a threadjack, but how do other non-English speaking members in smaller wards and branches deal with the cultural differences? What is it like to be the one Latin or Asian family in a white, English-speaking ward?

    Danithew, where is your stake/what is the branch in your stake? I’d be curious to know; chances are I know some of the members.

  22. “Historically, in visiting branches and wards throughout the Church, several General Authorities have dismissed female interpreters—read: the *sole* manner of distributing counsel to the local Deaf membership—outright from meetings and informed leadership of their intolerance of the practice.”

    AAARGH!!! As if the mere presence of a female somehow contaminates the proceedings???!!

    /breathes into paper bag/

    And Doug, I’ll bet you know my cousin, Daniel Payne.

  23. Kristine,

    Don’t get me started. We’ve been working on this one for a long time. It seems the only way to get around this is to make it an “in case of emergency” handbook policy, but it’s been a journey.

    Hey, and I can even understand the preference in the request, you know. But if the choice is a competent female interpreter or the exclusion of someone from a spiritual growth and/or training opportunity, I can’t even remotely fathom the wisdom in choosing the latter.

    One of my more interesting memories of Church interpreting was having one general authority tell me 1) I was going to be too much of a distraction and 2) to get up and march the group of members to the back of the room.

    Make some room in the paper bag for me.

    Ah yes, Dan. He’s a good guy. Haven’t seen him for a year or so, though. Still at BYU I think.

  24. My wife did some interpreting in Brazil for a visiting general authority. He seemed to have no problem with her female nature. I’ve got his new biography coming in the mail, so I’ll have to see if there is some subtext that she missed …

  25. I wonder if that’s because signed language interpreters tend to be a lot more visual and therefore, “detract” from the speaker.

    It is interesting to me that as I work with Spanish language interpreters in our stake, spoken language interpreters are almost never expected to produce simultaneous interpretations; the model seems to always be a “you-go-I-go” consecutive process. Thus, a visiting GA relies pretty heavily on the interpreter because it’s a necessity. Seeing a person moving the air around with their arms just out of eyesight causes a lot of grief for speakers apparently.

    Thanks for the opportunity to learn from all of your experiences.

  26. There are some very subtle and insidious assumptions in Mr. Peterson’s post, and this is perhaps what set off Mr. Mansfield. The assumptions are these: 1) people are incapable of responding to each other’s needs without bureaucratic dictums – i.e. morality must be externally imposed; 2) present dictums on policy and procedure are absent or inadequate – i.e. the General Authorities aren’t doing a good job; 3) we, the people (read “the intelligentsia”) can/should bring about the necessary changes through publishing critiques and debating solutions – i.e. the Church is a democracy. Further underlying these assumptions is the assumption that suffering is unacceptable and must be eliminated.

    These are all simply false.

    Concerning assumption #3, it is just as much folly to think we can achieve relief of human suffering by man’s efforts alone as it is to think we can achieve it by God’s alone. The Church attempts the best it can to facilitate the partnership. That’s really the whole message of God-Made-Flesh. Not only the Church but the whole universe is a theocracy – or, more accurately, a dei-ocracy – like it or not.

    Concerning assumption #2, the Church has developed materials relating to the integration of persons with disabilities, most of which are available at http://www.ldscatalog.com. Sections are devoted to this subject in the Church Handbook of Instructions, available to every local leader, Teaching, No Greater Call, available to every teacher, and are also incorporated into virtually every lesson manual. Extensive materials are available for the integration of Sign, Braille, and other alternative language using members. I am unaware of any other institutional church that has taken such measures; and we may expect that, true to form, the Church is continually expanding them.

    Concerning assumption #1, the majority of the posts above would seem to verify the fact that Latter-day Saints are quite capable of living by the Spirit. That some do not avail themselves of the free and ubiquitous teachings of the Gospel, either out of innocent ignorance or willful ignorance, is not grounds for whining or for setting up certain persons in victim status. In a church run by volunteers, we are all victims of each other’s imperfection, and we are all victimizers of others due to our own imperfection. One is identified as a Christian to the extent he acknowledges this fact and relies on Christ to make up the difference and take our victimhood upon himself.

    We are all disabled in some way. Some are fat, some are old, some are sick with one malady or another, some struggle with addictive or homosexual tendencies, with infertility, with illiteracy, with painful pasts, painful relationships, painful cultural barriers. Suffering is a necessary teacher, and as such is never truly escapable, only eclipsable through Jesus Christ and those who do his work as best they can on the earth. Whatever kindness and forbearance and service we receive from our fellow Saints is not a right but a gift. We are beggars relying on beggars, and the system works to the extent we pass on the gift we have been given through Christ, the great enabler.

  27. This looks like a dead thread, but in case anyone’s still reading, at some points in my life I’ve found it easier to talk with mentally handicapped adults at church than with so-called “normals.” In one ward I lived in, when I lacked the energy for small talk, I found it a relief to hang out with the two mentally handicapped adults who usually attended our gospel doctrine class because they just said exactly what was on their minds, although it was sometimes completely inappropriate. It can be a challenge to teach in such situations, certainly, but it was often so restful, so clarifying, somehow, to converse with them. I applaud the questions Peterson asks–I think they’re vital, and I know I’m not nearly as informed or aware as I should be about how to meet needs–but I also find it personally important to reflect on what the disabled can contribute, what they know that I don’t, and what I can learn from them. For me, anyway, it’s important to break down the Church culture barriers between those who serve and those who are served, who are the targets of service projects sometimes designed to bring them up to snuff. I like reciprocity as an ideal always worth striving for with anyone who’s disabled–which of course, as Cetti points out, is all of us, in one way or another.

  28. Good topic. I think the judgment conversation in Matthew 25 always applies to each day of our lives, and we can include everyone in our ward, and our world we meet in that. I have a plea too, concerning the so-called “subtle and insidious assumptions” of our leader… I don’t think his comments evidenced this quality of assumption…. He saw X, he thinks X… He may be wrong, but why insidious? It closes down dialogue… And the great stories that followed will help expand his vision… We all generalize–bad I guess–but in conversation I think we do it alot to give weight or meaningfulness to the things that strike us we want to talk about, otherwise we wouldn’t say anything…So I vote for cutting slack on folks giving their opinion… if it’s wrong (bad data), then the growing conversation will improve it, right? Unless we start judging and condemning, which closes down dialogue sometimes or turns it away from the topic to the person’s character… Dirty Fighting tactic we call it in marriage counseling. Back to Matthew 25, lets add all of us with disability, challenges, etc.. to the list.. so we don’t forget. I think the Church has done really well at times and as the stories show, not so well at other times… Can a new chapter in the Bishop’s Handbook help, or a conference address, or an Ensign article… maybe? Maybe not… But we can be more aware in our the experience of our lives…. I remember as a newly married BYU student my first calling… my wife was the Sunday School Teacher of one giant retarded and rambunctious boy and I was called as the bouncer so she wouldn’t get hurt. That was 26 years ago.. he still sends us Christmas Newsletters… Wrestling him down while keeping the spirit was great training for life for me… Protecting my wife from his genuine but extreme affection and wanting to touch eyes or his tantrums from anger/boredom, etc.. also was great training for life in the parenting that followed… He was one of my greatest teachers… I don’t know that we did much for his doctrinal understanding–what I wanted to focus on with him–but he still has a kind and powerful way and does alot of good in the world for folks with similiar disabilities. I will always be glad for the Bishop who didn’t really know he was blessing me with this calling.. God inspired him when he thought he was solving a problem from the bigger class that didn’t want to deal with him. Things are not always what they seem… so let’s do what we can (Matthew 25)and remember this is only Act 2 in a 3 Act play and the best is yet to come… if we do what our heart tells us to do… and repent when we don’t. Levi’s stories–his books, if he’s the same guy who wrote books I am remembering, also assure me that he’s not insidious… I’m glad he’s in the Kingdom… And the rest of you… I’m just reading from now here….thanks.

  29. I am a special education teacher, and a member of the church. This issue GREATLY frustrates me!!! I grew up in a ward that was certainly not perfect, but where those with disabilities were just plain accepted. Not because they had disabilities, but because that was jut the way it was. For the most part, this still continues. Because I have worked for years with people with disabilities (and notice, it is appropriate to say people with disabilities, not disabled people!!!!!), and have taught in Utah with families who are members–I have seen the good, great, wonderful, and the nasty, stupid and ugly!!! From wards where the young men have accepted the boy their age with Down Syndrome and make sure he “hangs out” with them whenever possible, to wards who don’t allow a child with spina bifida to attend nursery because he may “run over” the other kids in his wheelchair! Patronizing ward members who’s actions are only out of pity, to members who ALWAYS leave me to do their “job” of taking someone with a disability to the restroom since I have “more experience”. And certainly, although the General Authorities have and are making efforts, the lack of up-to-date inforamtion, curriculum assistance, training, social services through LDS social services for families, and lack of basic and accurate docternal (sp?) information can be incredibly frustrating!!! I’ve even called the Church office building before to request more up-to-date curriculum information than the stereotyped booklets sold at the church distribution center!! I thoroughly would love to volunteer for this job, to update both existing info–and push for changed attitudes. But truly–as you’ve seen–that is what it will take. Changed attitudes!!! Where a person with a disability is able to seek and gain their infinite potential–rather than being signed off and seen as “less than” all other members. Just as all other members do. What a wonderful day that would be. Where a man who has a hard time hiking isn’t just grabbed by a “member” behind him while she whom is working with him is trying to help him realize he is capable of walking down the not so steep hill. Members often see themselves as the “saviors” when they are really the dishonest cheaters when it comes to working with people with disabilities. So many would rather make themselves feel better with a very untrue concept of “charity” (such as that mentioned above)–when in reality what they are doing is cheating themselves and the person with disabities from the learning opportunity this life is supposed to be!

  30. I have two brother with intellectual disabilities, struggle with multiple mental health issues, have worked as a public school special educator and currently work as a special educator in a religious setting. Disability issues have always been a major part of my life.

    Undoubtedly there are countless stories of church units and individuals who have made great efforts to be inclusive. Unfortunately there are also situations where members with disabilities as well as families and caregivers are not included appropriately. My perception is that when a situation is mishandled it is generally out of ignorance rather than a desire to alienate or be cruel.

    My take on what to do about the issue is an effort to promote awareness of the many great church articles, resources and outside resources that offer help in this area. I have started collecting these resources in a website (link from my name). It sounds like there are a few people that could contribute to that effort- if so, please stop by and drop me a line.

  31. I didn’t get to read through all the other comments, I was just browsing when I found your page. While I believe the Church is true no matter where you are or how other members act, it greatly frustrated me that my son’s nursery leader (who knows that my 3 year old is autistic), said to me “maybe you could teach your child how to sit still and not run around”. That’s like saying, “maybe you should teach your son how not to be autistic”. That was something I didn’t need to hear at that point, we already had enough to deal with…it was only a week ago, but it rings in my head everytime I see my little boy. My little boy must have been so strong and spiritual in the preexistence, because I know that he will not be tested in the same ways that we are and that he will automatically go back to live with our Heavenly Father. If there are people with disabilities in your ward, I think that the leaders should find out as much as they can about the disability and the person and let all the other leaders in the ward know, without making it embarrassing for the individual and their family.

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