I’m so excited to announce that my new book, The United Methodist Church & Disability: Essays and Practical Tips for Churches, Clergy, and People with Disabilities, was published in large print paperback yesterday. (It will be available on Kindle on November 25, 2019).
This book was a passion project of mine and it is my sincere hope that it will help others, especially churches who would like to be more accessible and people with disabilities who are pursuing a call to ministry. In the interest of helping to raise awareness, here are the top three things I wish the world at large (including the church) understood about people who are blind or visually impaired. In honor of my book’s birthday, I wanted to share the following excerpt.
What I Wish the World Understood about Blindness and Visual Impairment
Blindness is a spectrum.
Not everyone who uses a white cane is completely blind. In fact, the majority of people who are blind have some amount of useable vision. I am considered to have low vision or to be visually impaired. My vision fluctuates based on many different factors, including how tired my eyes are and how much pain I’m experiencing. Some days I can read street signs, go for long runs in the bright sunlight in familiar areas, or recognize parishioners from across the room. Other mornings I wake up to find that I can barely even read words written in large print. It is unsafe for me to drive and I use a white cane to help me travel when I’m in an unfamiliar area.
People with all types of disabilities, not just blindness, face a world in which society at large makes all types of misinformed assumptions about us and our capabilities. I once spoke to a woman who has multiple sclerosis and sometimes uses a wheelchair when she goes shopping. When we were discussing this issue, she told me, “Lots of times in the past, I’ve stood up for a minute in order to reach something from a higher shelf at the grocery store. When I do that, people accuse me of faking. I’ve had strangers say to me in the middle of the cereal aisle, ‘You don’t really need that wheelchair! I caught you faking!’”
When I asked her how she responds to these microagressions, she answered, “I do my best to just ignore them. I don’t owe them an explanation. I don’t need to explain to them that some days I can get around better than others, or that not everyone who needs a wheelchair is paralyzed. But it still hurts when people say cruel things.”
People who are blind or visually impaired use phones, computers, and all types of technology.
I truly believe that technology and education are the two great equalizers for people with disabilities. They also go hand in hand. I would not have been able to earn my undergraduate degree in English Education or graduate with my M.Div. without the use of adaptive technology.
When I moved to Washington D.C. in order to attend seminary, the first thing I did was purchase an iPhone. I was only in school for about three months before I purchased an iPad as well. I love these two apple products and I use them every day in my ministry.
The iPhone and the iPad come equipped with adaptive software that allow me to make the fonts larger and invert the colors. The iPhone and the iPad also come with voice over technology. This means that these devices can read aloud anything that is displayed on the screen. Every day, more and more books are becoming available in digital format. I do most of my reading using the Kindle app or the Voice Dream app (more about this great app in a later chapter).
There is no end to the wonders of adaptive technology. Right now on my phone there is an application called Be My Eyes that will connect me to a sighted volunteer through a video call. I try not to rely too heavily on this app, but it’s been a huge help when a sighted friend isn’t available. I’ve used this app when I’ve been unable to locate an item that has gone missing in my church (my pink notebook was under a pew in the sanctuary) or if I can’t figure out how to turn on the new copy machine (the power button was on the back with all the wires).
There are lots of great accessibility apps that are available for the iPhone. I use the KNFB reader on a regular basis. This app allows the user to take a picture of any printed text (such as a menu at a restaurant or a prescription bottle) and then the app converts the text to large print and reads it aloud.
I also use a computer with a touch screen and a program called Zoom Text. Zoom Text enlarges the screen so that I can use a regular computer in order to do word processing or browse the internet. I use Zoom Text when I write sermons, plan worship, or work on my latest book.
More adaptive technology is being developed every day. I eagerly look forward to the day when I can hopefully get my own self driving car.
People who are blind or visually impaired can do anything anyone else can do, we just might do it a little differently.
Finally, I think the most important thing to understand about people who are blind or visually impaired is that we can do almost anything anyone else can do, we just do it a little differently. This is true for all people with disabilities.
In my own case, I can’t fly an airplane or drive a car, but there are plenty of other things that I can do. This is true for all of us. God has given us all unique gifts and graces. The apostle Paul tells us, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit attributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)”
In my own life, I have been most limited not by my low vision, but instead by society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities. Often, well-meaning people will say to me, “Wow! I didn’t know you were visually impaired,” or “but you don’t look blind.”
I sense that these people mean well, but these comments represent problematic underlying assumptions regarding people with disabilities. There is no one way to be blind just as there is no one way to be disabled. Some people who are blind care about fashion and makeup. Others, like many people who are sighted, are less interested in fashion. Some people who are blind have advanced degrees and some are passionate about interests other than academics.
In college, I was required to switch from music education to English education because an important professor refused to teach students with disabilities. Later, when I was looking for a romantic partner, I discovered that many people did not want to date me once they found out that I had a visual impairment and was unable to drive. The underlying assumption was that they were afraid that they would need to, “take care of the poor blind girl.”
Eventually, I met my spouse, and he is truly a blessing to me. We take care of one another. I also am incredibly blessed to be serving in ministry, where music is an important part of worship planning.
There are people with disabilities who are doctors, attorneys, teachers, musicians, and stay at home parents. Some of us work outside the home and some of us do not for a variety of reasons.
People who are blind can work, pursue career goals, and have loving families. We can fall in love, get married, and some of us choose to become parents. People with disabilities can be loving and supportive spouses as well as kind and nurturing parents. It is possible to be a person with a disability and to also live a life that is full of joy.