The history of disability advocacy can be traced back hundreds of years. Since then, exceptional individuals have dedicated their lives to making this world more loving and accessible. In this blog post, we will be highlighting just a few of those people. We have linked articles concerning each person if you would like to learn more about them. We hope that learning about their lives can serve as a model for how we too can commit ourselves to inclusivity.
Jean Vanier → Canadian Catholic philosopher Jean Vanier was a prominent advocate of disability rights. He penned over 30 books spanning topics like tolerance and disability ministry, earning him numerous accolades. His life’s work culminated with the establishment of his organization, L’Arche, in 1964. L’Arche was created to help foster communities where people of all abilities could flourish together. Jean Vanier sadly passed away this past May, but his legacy of inclusion lives on through the lives he touched and impacted.
Patrisha Wright → The National Council on Disability introduced a bill prohibiting discrimination based on disability in 1988. As a person with disabilities herself, Patrisha Wright was one of the bill’s most dedicated lobbyists. She even earned the nickname “general” for the resilience she demonstrated during the legislative process. In 1990, a revised version of the bill, the Americans with Disabilities Act, was signed into law. This law continues to protect people with disabilities in employment, public services, and public accommodations to this day. She was awarded the George Bush Medal in 2000 for her disability rights work.
Lois Curtis → When Lois was diagnosed with intellectual disabilities at age 11, she was taken away and confined to a psychiatric hospital. She would stay there until she was 29. Curtis, believing she did not belong there, contacted attorneys. Finally, a lawyer took up her case. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled it unconstitutional to force her to be in the hospital when she was capable of living in the community. A law called the “Olmstead Decision” was subsequently created. This decision essentially dictated that “institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that people so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.”
Haben Girma → Deafblind since birth, Haben had the odds stacked against her. However, she proved that amazing things can happen when spaces are inclusive. After graduating from Lewis & Clark College in 2010, Haben went on to attend Harvard Law School. She earned her J.D in 2013 and became Harvard’s first deafblind graduate. Following her graduation, she spent a year working at Disability Rights Advocates as a staff attorney. Today, Haben continues to write books, give talks, and educate and inspire people with her story. Listen to her TED talk here.
The story of disability rights began with these trailblazers, and their legacy continues with us. Disability advocacy does not always have to be done via grand gestures. Our work, church, friends, and family are facets of our lives where we are given an opportunity to be inclusive. Things like making someone feel welcome at church or introducing an element of universal design in the bulletin is small, but carries the potential to make a world of a difference.
One way to make church more inclusive? Try one of our Bible studies. These have been specially designed and written to be used by ALL members of the church. Learn more here and try a FREE sample session here.