Remarks from Sunday’s “Invisible Disabilities” service

Thank you to Ilene, Lisa and Betty for sharing with us in yesterday’s summer service. Ilene’s remarks are below:

Disabilities and our Church

The first thing I would like to say is if at any time you cannot hear what I am saying I ask that you raise your hand to let me know.

Like most babies I was born able-bodied. As a nimble young child, who could do somersaults, cartwheels and backbends, noticing people who were old or disabled people who had difficulty walking, caused me to wonder how they got that way and how it felt to have trouble with one’s bones when mine felt so strong!

Some of you may have noticed that I am having increasing difficulty walking. In September I am going to the body shop to get a new hip. Now, finally, I am old enough to understand how I got this way! I also have lost some of my hearing. And I notice I cannot read small print anymore. I have become disabled! Something I never envisioned! Something I am still adjusting to! Truthfully, it is humbling to lose your abilities. I feel a lot of grief that I had to leave my martial arts class; I am even having challenges in my new chair yoga class! Walking my dog has become challenging. Coping with the transition from able- bodied to disabled is difficult. Acceptance is hard! Adjusting is not easy! It upsets me to ask for the things I now need, a hand up the stairs, a chair to sit on while others stand, a larger copy of music scores so it isn’t a strain to read the words. I don’t want to need help! I don’t want to be rude! I don’t want to bother or annoy anyone!

Our church is a welcoming church. We have a ramp in the rear. We have microphones and loud speakers. We have kind-hearted people. But more is necessary! For example, for those of us with hearing loss, Please, it is not necessary to shout or be excessively loud! In fact shouting can hurt our ears! Instead, we need you to face us, so we can see your expressions, watch your lips and so the sound can flow uninterrupted to our ears! Just speak clearly, audibly, and not too fast! Sometimes people perceive my needs and respond without being asked! Recently Robert Hayes took my arm and escorted me, my dog and a pie I was carrying to the church picnic over uneven ground on the sloping hill, and Bill Stevenson, made it possible for me to see the Matisse exhibit at the Fine Arts Museum with him by pushing me around in a wheelchair. I am grateful guys! Thank you so much!

When I was young, I was not conscious of the needs of disabled people because they were not a part of my life. In the early 80’s, when I went to World Fellowship in New Hampshire I met disabled activists, Frieda Zames, and Michael Impereali. Freida had suffered a Polio attack at the age of three, and Michael, an Italian Catholic, had developed a crippling Jewish genetic disease. The couple belonged to Disabled in Action, an activist, political group in New York City. The first time I met them, Michael told me the story of how he and Frieda had stood in front of buses on the lower East Side, preventing them from pulling out, in the fight for buses designed to allow wheelchair users to board. The police were called, and soon after they arrived, a policeman attacked and beat Michael. Mike told me the officer had only stopped, when a woman on the sidewalk cried out, “Stop hitting him! He’s a cripple!” Mike was arrested and charged with resisting arrest. Because the policeman alleged Michael had stuck him with Mike’s paralyzed left arm Michael was found innocent and won a few thousand dollars for his injuries.

I became good friends of these remarkable people, Michael and Frieda, kept in touch and visited them in the lower East Side two or three times a year until they died several years ago. Accompanying Michael and Frieda, who used motorized chairs, their ‘Amigos’, and their disabled friends on the streets of Manhattan, in restaurants, stores, to the theatre and sometimes going to meetings of Disabled in Action was a real education for me. I learned both how limiting disabilities could be and how simple accommodations, like that won in the One Step Campaign to eliminate the common step found in front of restaurants and stores, replacing it with a short ramp, would immediately improve accessibility for those with canes and in wheelchairs and make it easier for everyone else as well. The Campaign for Accessible Buses was won in N.Y. and a few years later, kneeling buses and buses with wheelchair accessibility came to Boston without a fight. For years I rode buses to get from Cambridge to Boston to work. As I observed people using the kneeling buses, I soon realized that even though not everyone was disabled, everyone was a potential beneficiary, mothers with babies in strollers, older people, children, people with packages, those with temporary injuries. Increasing accessibility benefits the entire community!

Having joined those living with disabilities, has made me more sensitive to this issue. I would like to see our church increase its awareness and understanding of disabilities and the needs of those living with disabilities and discover what we, as a community, can do to make it easier for the visually and hearing impaired and the physically disabled to attend and fully participate. I would like to see the Unitarian Church of Medford develop a consciousness that always includes, never disregards the needs of the disabled. The seven Principles of our religion demand that we do so.

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