By Jonathan David Faulkner
I am always amazed at the ignorance expressed towards the disabled. For instance, if someone is has a disability that is obvious people are willing to comment on it and even make fun of that person. When you cannot perceive the disability clearly it makes the ignorant comments even more annoying. Questions like: “Why do you hold you phone so close?” or “Can you not see that?” have frequently been thrown at me throughout my life. When I tell people I have a visual disability they will say; “Oh, I could not tell.” The implication being: “You do not look blind; therefore, you must not be.”
It is even worse when the comment comes from the passerby. Recently my friend Abigail shared the story of how she had overheard a father’s answer his daughter’s inquiry as to whether or not ‘the girl with the service dog was blind. The father’s response was appalling, stating that my friend was “too beautiful” to be blind.
I met my friend Abigail in 2007 on a bus between Dallas and Garden Valley Texas. We were headed for Global Expeditions Missions Training and had grabbed the last two seats on the bus. Neither was aware of the others disability until one of the people sitting across from us saw us looking at our phones. I remember, they said something like: “Excuse me, are you two visually impaired?” Despite distance and the busyness of adult life I still consider Abigail a friend. By the way, she is beautiful, inside and out.
Growing up with a disability you would think one would get used to comments like that, but you do not, they can be hurtful and if they are not that, they are at the very least annoying. I once had to tell new friends they were not allowed to make jokes about my disability until they had known me for a year. That was to assure that they were not making them out of ignorance if they did make them. I do not mind the jokes so much as I mind people who make them without actually knowing me. Ignorant statements and people suddenly shifting the way they treat me in light of my disability (i.e talking louder because you consider me dumb). Those things I mind.
My father tells a story about his high school music teacher changing the music on him right before the concert. My brother in Christ Gerald shared a story with me about a whole group of people ceasing to talk to him because his disability had caused him to have to drop out of that activity. I have experienced friends create distance because they are uncomfortable with my disability. As though my “Blindness” makes me less human or something, or less deserving of consideration.
During a Leadership Forum put on by The Ohio Governor’s Council for Disabled Leaders, actress Jeri Jewel told our group of delegates: “The real disabilities are the human ones, fear, hatred, ignorance, selfishness, bitterness, pride.” Jeri has Cerebral Palsy which affects motor functions and limb control. Her disability is a visible one, mine is not, but the idea holds true.
That poor child, growing up thinking that blind people look a certain way. Yes, we use different aids, my friend Abigail uses a Service Dog, Gerald uses a Cane and I use a Biopic Lens and contact lenses. Of those three, mine is the least obvious, unless you try to scroll around my computer or listen to a book with me. But the use of aids does not make us any less human and it doesn’t make us any less independent.
And all three of us are quite independent in most everything. Abigail runs marathons, Gerald is an excellent Keyboard player and musician, I write books and songs. We do not live at home, we live normal lives, depending on people when we need to for things like rides to events and what not and occasionally for help in classes (It is hard to read Greek when you cannot see it). We look and live exactly like you do. We just have a disability.
It is hard for me to accept the idea that someone has less value then another. Regardless of their disability, race or gender. Are we not all made in the image of God? Are our disabilities and abilities not meant for the same purpose and isn’t that purpose the glory of GOD (Jh 9:3)? Are we not all valuable in God’s kingdom?
One of the greatest issues with Western Philosophy is that it teaches us that it is okay to ignore or even completely reject something we do not understand. We do this with thought and we do this with people. “They think different than me” or “They are different from me” becomes justification for treating people any way we want. If something does not fit our idea of what something is or is not, instead of seeking to understand, we just write the idea or the person off. To say that someone cannot do something because they are blind or cannot be something because they are blind is absurd and relies on a logical Fallacy to even be justifiable. “If a person is blind then they cannot do X. They cannot do X because they are blind.” It is even accurate to say that, in some ways, the person who has an adverse reaction to someone based solely on their disability is actually the blind one. Blind, because they do not recognize the intrinsic and inherit value of the individual because the lens they view them through is that of a person with a disability. Rather than the reality that the person was created by God and has value to God.
We are beautiful, handsome, tall, short, strong, weak, runners, thinkers, dreamers, musicians, lovers, fighters, friends, brothers, sisters, parents. We are black, white, native American, Latino, Italian, Irish. We are part of the Human Race just like you are. We may be visually impaired, but that makes us no less human than you.
So next time you see a person with a service dog, a cane or a Biopic Lens remember that they are really no different from you. They are beautiful, they have value and purpose. They are not weak or poor or dumb or whatever bias you may have towards them. They are a created child of God, loved and cherished by Him, bearing His image. If you take the time to look around you then you will find disabled people doing amazing things every day, and not just the blind.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry