Debbie Greens morning
routine is like that of most other working Americans. She prepares
breakfast and heads to her job. Green serves as Christian education
director at Calvary Assembly of God in Elizabethtown, Ky. But in
many ways her life is different. She is blind.
"My day is like
every other day for every other person," says Green. "The
difference is I have to make certain accommodations."
As a child, Green was
diagnosed with uveitis, an inflammatory disease in the eyes that
causes glaucoma. At age 8, she lost sight in one eye. By the time
she was 20, vision in her other eye had completely deteriorated.
More than 30 years later,
Green is one of 58 million American adults living with a disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as a substantial
limitation in a major life activity. The act guarantees equal opportunity
for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment,
transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
ADA was signed into law
a decade ago, and employment for those with severe disabilities
has steadily risen. Despite the rise in employment for disabled
Americans (23 percent in 1991 to 31 percent today), however, career
opportunities remain an obstacle for many. Unfortunately, another
fundamental activity in life, church attendance, also presents challenges.
While Green attends church
regularly, many disabled people dont go to church. For church
participation to increase, experts say, efforts must be made to
educate people without disabilities of the skills disabled persons
have to offer and to dispel myths that have long been associated
with the disabled.
"People with disabilities
have gifts that can be used within the structure of the local church,"
says Charles Chivers, national director of Assemblies of God Special
Touch Ministries. Yet, he adds, only 20 percent of disabled people
Paul Weingartner, director
for the Assemblies of God National Center for the Blind, agrees.
"Many of our blind people are highly educated and have time
to teach because they are usually underemployed," he says.
"Some had a tragic experience later in life that cost them
their vision, so they had the chance to attend school."
Marlys Taege serves as
executive director of Christian Council on Persons with Disabilities
in Milwaukee. "When you add the mothers, fathers, brothers,
sisters and spouses that are impacted by a disability," she
says, "thats close to 50 percent of the population that
has some sort of need for accessibility. When we dont reach
out to those with disabilities, were cutting off a large number
of other people as well."
"Bridge the distance
between yourself and the individual with disability," Joni
Eareckson Tada told PE Report. Tada is founder and president of
Joni and Friends in Agoura Hills, Calif. "Youll find,"
she says, "that your fear will dissipate, and you will see
that this person is just that a person, who happens to have
So why arent more
people crossing that bridge? Taege says a lack of knowing what to
say is to blame. "One of the challenges for everyone is feeling
comfortable with people with disabilities," she says. "Were
afraid well say or do the wrong thing."
Tada, a quadriplegic
for 35 years, has written more than 30 books and speaks around the
world as a disability advocate. She believes there are several myths
about people with disabilities. "Many people [falsely] think
[being disabled] is a result of sin or that the person doesnt
have enough faith to be healed," she says.
Taege emphasizes that
believers must get past those misconceptions. "Just because
someone uses a wheelchair or cant see as well doesnt
mean their mind isnt working," she says.
While some mistakenly
assume people with disabilities seek pity, those who minister to
them contend they need more than sympathy. Millions still need to
be introduced to Jesus Christ, and their disabilities should not
be an obstacle to sharing the gospel message with them.
by disability can be great visual aids of Gods Word,"
Tada says, "showcasing how His power is best displayed in people
who are yielded to Him. God always seems bigger to those who need