An Able Bodied World?

by Rich Dixon on December 1, 2011

Rich’s Ride provided countless rewards and a few challenges. One significant test arrived in the form of a question.

A Christian disability-advocacy group invited me to a meeting. I began as I often do with a small audience, by asking what they wanted me to talk about. After a short pause, a lady began the discussion with a statement/question I’m still processing.

“You’re doing this amazing project that inspires everyone, especially people like us. Can you tell us how you’re able to function so well in an able-bodied world?”

Before reading further I invite you to ponder those lines for a moment. What stands out for you?

Her question still challenges me on several levels, but one phrase honestly stops me cold: an able-bodied world.

What’s your immediate reaction? Do we live in “an able-bodied world”?

If so, I’m an interloper; I don’t belong. An able-bodied world might tolerate me, even make allowances for me, but I’m at best a resident alien. A guy who’s paralyzed below his chest cannot claim full citizenship in an able-bodied world.

This was a Christian organization, and they assumed God created the world for people who meet some arbitrary physical, mental, and emotional standards. I guess those of us who fall short ought to stay out of the way and feel grateful that we’re allowed to hang out on the edges.

I’m not blind to reality. I want to figure out how to follow Jesus in real life, and it’s clear that I face a unique set of physical challenges. There’s no point in pretending.

But words have incredible power to shape our attitudes. Description becomes perception, and perception becomes reality. I hope you’ll leave a comment here with your thoughts on some questions that challenge me.

  • What are my unspoken assumptions about who belongs and who doesn’t?
  • Where do my words and behaviors marginalize others?
  • Where’s the line between being realistic and simply catering to my own comfort zone?

Do we live in “an able-bodied world”?

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