“I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” ~ Matthew 25:40, MSG
Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Since President George H.W. Bush signed this piece of legislation into law, much has changed in our nation. Access to everything from public buildings to sidewalks have been adapted forever. Ramps and accessible restrooms have become the norm. And discrimination in education and employment have found their remedy.
Yet, while we’ve seen progress in equal access and treatment of those with a special need, the church as a whole still continues to lag. Perhaps this is due, in part, to the fact that churches are granted exemption from compliance with many of the ADA requirements. While the intent of this exemption lays mainly in the practice of the Federal government to show restraint in regulating religious establishments, offering freedom to observe ones personal religious tenets, the motivation of churches who do not comply may be more a financial or attitude issue.
Yes, there are copious amounts of information on how we can make church buildings more accessible. But one thing the ADA can never address is the human condition of heart. All of the adjustments and rights in the world will not transform the psyche of the average American who does not live with a chronic illness or injury under their own roof. That is the high calling of the church.
Rather than lagging behind because federal law gives us an exemption, the church should be leading the way on inclusion. We sing “Kumbaya” and “If We Are The Body,” while still becoming disgusted if a person dares to engage in an unusual sound or behavior when these songs are sung. Instead, we should be rejoicing that in our midst, someone desperately in need of the hope of Jesus has found acceptance. After all, we are the ones charged with transforming hearts and lives by introducing sinners to their only salvation.
While this may sound condemning or preachy, that is not my intent. My hope is to continue to spur on all of us who have dedicated our lives to inclusion of “the least of these.” While we, as a disability ministry community, remain small and tirelessly diligent, we have only just begun. There is much work to be done. Consider, how many churches in your personal 15 mile radius are actually inclusive? What choices do the disabled have for worship and for TLC from the community of faith where you live? There is a huge mission field right under our feet. On this 22nd anniversary of the ADA, please make it a point to share that message with just one new church in your area!