Friday, 31 August 2012

When Is It Right To Be Inspirational?

Some of my disabled friends dislike the word “Inspirational” in connection with the Paralympics.

I will attempt to paraphrase why they think like this in a few sentences: 
People will look at those whose disabilities prevent them ever being able to achieve what the paralympians do, and say “They can do it - why can’t you? They can run 100m, and you can’t even get a job.” Comments like this are rarely made to an out of work twenty something who doesn’t want a job. There is disparity, and my friends believe the word “inspirational” compounds the problem.

I am not getting at those saying this. It is a very valid opinion. It probably needs saying! I know that this word is often used in a patronizing way, seeing the Paralympics as a bit of a freak show, and look - the freaks are doing amazing things…. Isn’t that nice for them. I find THIS attitude far more worrying!

No - I’m not getting at those with this view - I appreciate it…. But the topic is a gift to a writer, and I am going to use it as a launch pad to make some other comments that follow on nicely!!

Yes - I can see where my disabled friends are coming from, but I am hoping (probably naively) that our nation will see that just like able bodied people, disabled people come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. There are able bodied AND disabled people who will never get a gold medal at the olympics/paralympics, never get a Phd in astrophysics or never be able to hold down a long term job, in the same way there will be both disabled and non-disabled people who will do what those looking on describe as inspirational. 

What I am hoping for is the people of this nation seeing there is a person beyond the disability, the only difference between us is…... the disability. We all have the ability to be happy, sad, grumpy and intolerant. All of us can both struggle and achieve.

People in my world (of kids and family work, and advising on disability) often use the word “Inspiring” of me. I don’t mind. I am not in the least offended by people saying “If you can do it, I can do it”.  I want to inspire those who are non-disabled and disabled to be all that God wants them to be. That might be the person who makes the drinks for the kids at their club or the well known kids evangelist. If both are inspired to do what they do to the best of their ability in service to God, then that’s great…. And it’s also worship. I’m happy to inspire. I don’t set out to inspire people to do my particular job, but God uses me to inspire them where they are. I am disabled - I will never run 100m (Although I did get the high school record for that - the fastest, not the slowest!) But I can be inspirational where I am. 

I am inspired by Amy Carmichael - she had a disability and I am inspired by the way she dealt with it. But I don’t expect all other Christians who have disabilities out there to be the same as her…. or me. Amy was Amy, and I am….Kay.

I have had the “I” word used in a patronizing way too, using the word brave along side it. I’m not brave - I haven’t chosen to have permanent pain and uncooperative muscles, Bravery is choosing to do something in spite of your fear. But what I do choose to do is to respond in a gracious way……

When people are intolerant or patronising with me, I refuse to sink to the same level - I will choose be tolerant with them (although I’m often tempted to be patronsing straight back at them!)

On the other side of the coin, I’ve also been shouted at by people who think I am treating those with disabilities in an unfair way and by those who think those with disabilities are getting an unfair preference, all on the same night in the same venue when working as a disability consultant. I’ve even had both of these complaints from within two different areas of disability! 

In my role I see both sides of the argument - it is a unique view!

On Sky news, on the night of the opening ceremony to the olympics, there was a gentleman who is blind being interviewed. He was great! He said many quotable things that mirror some of my own sayings: “Many disabled people are now throwing things at their TVs because you [the interviewer] described yourself as ‘normal’. Well people - get over it….!” His view was to comment, and move on.

Many folk will find Channel 4’s Paralympic programme “The Last Leg” offensive - but I found it hilarious!! Their humour refreshing.

I too have many pet hates - I don’t like being lumped into the phrase “The Disabled”, I hate people talking over my head. I don’t like people in airport queues saying as I’m wheeled past them “I’m going to feign my own disability to jump the queue” (They don’t see how long I have to wait to get OFF the plane!) I hate people assuming that I can’t do my job because my muscles won’t cooperate, and I REALLY hate being patronized.


I am not the centre of the universe. If I am to function - I have to let it go…. I have to “get over it”. Unfair things are said to people who don’t have a disability too. If I am to change the world’s view of disability I have to move on.

I have achieved far more in changing things for those who have disabilities by being pleasant (and possibly ‘inspirational’!) than I have by stamping my foot and being grumpy about the world’s attitude.

*Disclaimer! There is a time to be angry and to shout - what is happening with changes to DLA is just one of those things. But I believe we have to reserve that anger for the big things - and deal graciously with the others. It will have a much greater impact that way :)

Thursday, 30 August 2012

What did you think of the Paralympic opening ceremony?

So what did you think of the Paralympic opening ceremony?

It was technically brilliant. All the volunteers that took part were awesome and inspiring - the skill involved was breathtaking. It was signed too - wonderful! To look at, it was spectacular….

What about the message behind it? 
It told us of our scientific back ground. 
It told us to explore. 
The quote “Look at the stars, not at your feet” - a call to be all that we can be.
The closing song “I am What I am” the common mantra of today’s world. 

This was inspiring a generation to achieve, to look only to themselves and to say to the world “I Am What I Am - deal with it!” (In the context of acceptance this is great, but in the context of “I’m not prepared to change” it can be selfish.)

But where was the hope? The hope of a future, the hope of a generation. Sadly, I saw no hope.

I saw joy - the joy of achieving, of taking part, of making history, the sheer ecstasy of just being there. But what about when it’s all over - what then? It’s then that hope is needed most. The children who have been and will be inspired because of the Paralympics need more than “I Am What I Am”. They need Hope.

In the Olympic opening ceremony of a few weeks ago, there was a clear “God thread” as the “story” unfolded - the church’s influence on our history clear. But in this opening ceremony we saw the opposite - it appears in this instance that when it come to history - the Church has no part…… I wonder why that is….?

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Beyond the Paralympics

Over the next couple of weeks we will all be ooo-ing and aaah-ing over the achievements of those taking part in the Paralympics. It’s all nice and warm and fuzzy - and why should’t it be?! This is something to be celebrated, and I for one will be watching as much as my work load allows.

There is work going on amongst para-church organisations to use the Paralympics to raise awareness of disability in churches - going beyond the ramp and a warm welcome, but actually including those with disabilities and additional needs fully in the life of the church.

But what happens when it’s all over? For a while, we will be inspired. To quote the Olympic catch phrase, a generation will have been inspired too. But for how long?

Here’s some things that may take this inspiration beyond the Paralympics:
  • The Disability Sunday pack - written to be used during the event, but easily used on any day. It may fit better at a different time of year for your church, or you may have only just found out about it, but please - use it. 
  • The Enabling Church study book - ideal for churches who wanted to take a fresh look at what the Bible has to say about disability and become equipped to be more inclusive. 
  • I know of another book currently going through the editorial process - one that I have had the privilege of writing one of the chapters for. I’ll give you more information when I have it. 
  • Have a look at the Livability page "Your Church And Disability
  • Scripture Union do ‘Additional Needs’ camps (The link takes you to the camps just gone - but you can request a brochure for next year) 
  • My own organisation (Children Worldwide) will be doing a weekend retreat for families who have a child with complex medical needs and mobility difficulties. See the page about "Latitude
  • Both Urban Saints and Children Worldwide have people who can run a training event for churches who want to know more about children with additional needs and disabilities. 
  • Churches for All have contacts who would be happy to come a do training on any aspect of disability for your church. Have a good look around this new look web site 
  • If you want to see a good example of disability information on a website, have a look at the National Space Centre in Leicester - the info is helpful and clear and the centre itself is completely accessible and welcoming. Let’s get the churches in the UK doing this even better! 
And books for Kids:
  • Some fantastic Books by Victoria Beech and the Paediatric Chaplaincy Network (Scroll down the page when you get there). Tackling subjects such as life limiting illness, hospital stays and the death of a sibling.
  • And one little gem I've just found - Rebecca Elliott: "Just Because"

Monday, 6 August 2012

Are We Inspiring a Generation?

For the first time ever, the catch phrase for the Olympics and the Paralympics is the same: “Inspire a Generation”. It’s a good phrase!
All over the world, the younger generation are being inspired by positive role models who are competing in the Olympics, and the same will happen when it comes to the Paralympics. The torch is being passed on to the next generation. (I loved that bit of the opening ceremony!)

I hope that all of this rising generation will be inspired by both events. That not just disabled youngsters but also able bodied youngsters will be inspired by the Paralympics.

But what about us as a ‘Church’? 

Are we inspiring a generation? Any generation?

For all the children and young people in our churches, disabled or not, additional need or not, are we inspiring them to go forward in their faith? Are we giving good role models for them? Are we inspiring an older generation of people who have disabilities to go forward with God? Do we even have a vision for this?

How do we see those with disabilities and additional needs and are they even on the Church’s radar? Sadly, for most churches they are not. When you look at the figures of how many people there are with disabilities in our communities, it is easy to see that our churches do not reflect those figures….. And it’s not because they all get healed!

When the world is watching the abilities of the Paralympians rather than their disabilities and applauding their achievements, how is ‘the Church’ viewing those with disabilities in their communities? Are they seen as people who can be giants of faith, able to serve as well as receive? Or is it a case of a perplexed “what disabled people….?”

I’ve been speaking out for children who have disabilities and additional needs for over 20 years, and in the area of children - inspired by a generation of children’s workers, things are happening. More and more churches are trying to include youngsters with disabilities and additional needs. For these people I am extremely grateful -  they truly are inspiring a generation of children with disabilities and additional needs and building them up in their faith. But what happens as our children grow up? Do we have the same heart and vision in our youth and adult programmes?

Maybe as these children grow, the Church will sit up and realise that something needs to be done, to see that working with these young people and adults is a valid ministry. I believe that our churches need to be ready to welcome those with disabilities rather than being surprised when they come. I want those with leadership responsibilities to look at this issue properly rather than skip over info and posts about disability.... as seems to be the norm! (Apologies for my outspoken moment there - but that is how it feels to many people who have disabilities and try to access our churches)

Why not raise awareness about this in our churches now? With the Paralympics, the idea of disability will be high in people’s minds. And this is the thinking behind moving “Disability Sunday” to just after the event.

Have a look here for a ‘Disability Sunday’ pack, and look at inspiring your church to be a Gold medal holder for accessibility.... on all levels.... in all generations.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Recruiting to a vision

Special Needs, additional needs, disabilities, difficulties - what ever you call it, the issue in a lot of our churches is the same, and many children and youth workers up and down the country are struggling with it. 
We see the problem, and all the surrounding issues and feel that gut response of “How on earth am I going to cope with that?” All the work of doing week by week youth ministry is hard enough to cope with without this!
There is often an expectation for our volunteers to deliver a level of inclusion that even the most experienced specialist in the area of additional needs would struggle to do outside the church setting, and when it doesn’t work we get disillusioned. 
To practice a good level of inclusion is a week by week process, and how it works out in practice will be different for every child. Some will settle in with all the other kids, some won’t. Some will need a mix of time in the group and time alone. Whatever we plan could change at a moments notice and we need lots of flexibility.
To agree to help a child with learning difficulties in our Sunday children’s work at age five is one thing, but to transition them through our children and youth work and into adult worship is something completely different. It is a long term commitment that needs determination, love, wisdom and vision, and is a decision not to be taken lightly - it will be hard work.
Doesn’t that sound awful! 
Ok, let’s begin with another way of looking at this? Let’s move our eyes away from the problem we perceive and onto the gift we can give. On to a vision of what God can do, not only in the lives of the children and young people, but in our own lives as we seek to serve them. 
Don’t misunderstand me here - we need to look at practicalities, how to make the provision we give work. We need to make sure our volunteers are trained and ready too. But if our starting point is the problem and not God, where is our vision coming from? God needs to be central in the vision - for all we do, and especially in the work we do with these precious youngsters
You will no doubt be familiar the following statement: “Mum has asked if Fred can come to club…. Have you seen Fred?! He can’t sit still, he hates the noise and he’s totally disruptive. He’s always putting the other kids off! We need a one to one for him”. After that comes the conversation with a possible one to one buddy: “We have this child who is a problem. He’s totally disruptive in his class. Would you mind helping us out?”  This is what I call “recruiting to a problem”.
Wouldn’t it be better to say “We have a young person who is struggling with club at the moment. We want him to have a positive experience and want to find ways of helping him connect with God and be all that God wants him to be. Would you help us?” This is “recruiting to a vision”
What do I see when I look at a child with autism? Or severe ADHD? Do I see a problem to be solved or a child, made by God, who deserves to be loved and nurtured? Do I have a passion for seeing God work in their lives?
One of our Trustees was telling the story of a friend last week, who got to the point of saying to God “I don’t know what to do!” And God responded with “I know - watch me!”
It was different circumstances, but the lesson is the same.
Even before we start planning - should we be saying “Lord I don’t know what to do! Guide me!”
We need a vision and a passion for these children. It won’t be one vision and one plan for life - it will change and will be constantly moving with the young person. It isn’t a one size fits all - it’s a different long term vision and a different plan for every young person and every family.
The over-riding and central vision will be the same - That they would know and love God, that they would be all that God wants them to be, that they would be filled with the Spirit and serve God with all their heart, mind and soul….. I could go on! But there will be things God lays on your heart for a specific child that goes beyond the basic vision you have for all the kids.
May your vision and your passion increase as you continue to serve God and the youngsters in your care.

Some tips:
Don’t do it yourself if you are the key youth worker - appoint someone whose sole responsibility is ‘Inclusion’. Someone with experience, who is passionate…. and has a vision.
Recruit team to a vision, not a problem.
Be realistic about what you can achieve
Work with the young persons family to achieve the best for them
Remember that what works one week, might not work next week