The number is significant: more than 4. 4 million Canadians report having a disability. That means about 14 per cent of us have an activity limitation due to a physical or psychological condition lasting six months or more.
These numbers are from 2006, the most recent available. They have risen since 2001, when 3. 6 million reported a limitation. And they’ll probably rise even higher
when the 2012 survey findings are released later this year.
Experiencing a disability is rather common, and will
become more common as Canada’s population ages.
Some of us are born with a limitation – it comes and
stays – while for others it comes and goes. My family’s
experience is with the latter: a family member being in a
wheelchair for over two years.
Those years were difficult, but we also witnessed the
restorative ability of the body – truly amazing, as was the
wonderful response of family, friends, coworkers and medical staff. Using a set of wheels for so long also brought us a
deeper understanding of wellbeing, both personal and social.
Some aspects of the journey were minor annoyances.
Yes, it’s frustrating to wait while people without a physical
limitation use reserved parking spots to run quick errands.
It’s also a letdown to make it past the curbs and into buildings only to discover you can’t navigate inside to reach
certain offices or washrooms.
Other aspects of living with a disability are more difficult to deal with, particularly how some of us relate to
people with disabilities.
You would be amazed, if you were in a wheelchair,
how many people talk slowly and loudly to you, as if a
problem with your ability to walk means you must be
limited in other ways.
This doesn’t occur when someone is wearing a cast.
If you’re in a wheelchair, many people avoid talking to
you and talk instead to whoever is with you. Sometimes
a Disability Doesn’t
Define a person
We are all image-bearers of God
Together for influence, impact and identity
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of
Evangelicals gathered together for influence, impact and identity
in ministry and public witness. Since 1964 the EFC has provided a
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principles in life and society. Visit us at www.theEFC.ca.
they even talk about you as if you aren’t able to hear.
Helping others learn to say “hi” and speak to a person
in a wheelchair became standard fare for us.
Humour also helps. When people would say: “What’s
wrong with you?” our daughter’s response was always,
“There’s nothing wrong with me, only my hip.”
Disability does not define a person. Living with a dis-
ability does not mean you are a broken person. You are
simply a person whose body doesn’t function like other
Not only is your humanity intact, you become quite observant and insightful about life and people. You learn to
live with daily disappointment – sometimes because of the
disability but often because of the way people relate to you.
Historically the spread of Christianity actually revolutionized how we relate to those who are ill or disabled, as
Gary Ferngren documents in Medicine and Health Care in
Early Christianity (Johns Hopkins, 2009).
The Christian understanding of our being – created
in the image of God and of inestimable worth – changed
how people understood personhood, charity and the care
Physical limitations don’t lessen one’s value – this is
what Christianity has taught. Instead, those who are ill or
disabled deserve compassion and care. Their illness is not
their fault nor the result of their sin.
In suffering, Christians experience what Christ and
other Christians have endured. Suffering prepares Christians to comfort others.
Love and care for others is both a personal and communal responsibility to be extended to those outside the
Christian community – to neighbours and, yes, to enemies.
All these revolutionary teachings made hospitals an
outcome of the Christian worldview. “Wherever a church
was founded,” writes Ferngren, “it became a focal point
for the care of the sick.”
Having a disability does not diminish a person. Rather,
such a person has much to teach us. As we care for them,
it is we who benefit.
The next time you see someone in a wheelchair, look
them in the eye and talk with them as you would any other
image-bearer of God. Ask them about their wheels, but
also about their dreams and interests.
You’ll be sure to prompt a glint in their eye as they recognize someone who is interested in them beyond their
BrucE J. clEMENGEr is president of The Evangelical
Fellowship of Canada. Read more of his columns