Sunday, November 23, 2008

Life as a Personal Aide: Liturgical Version

Being a personal aide to someone with quadriplegia is a blessing. Being a personal aide to one who is also a disabilities rights activist is a kick in the butt. I know, I know...I should be grateful that I can stand up to get my butt kicked. Ruth, after all, cannot.

The latest kick in my able-bodied butt has to do with realizing how tough it can be for people with disabilities to receive Communion. While it's fine with me if anyone in a wheelchair or on crutches wants to come up the aisle, I've noticed how it's clearly not fine for others.

And so whenever I have the privilege of distributing the Eucharist, I walk forward to meet people with disabilities. I do not expect them to roll or hobble all the way up to me. I'll also serve seated people with disabilities first, kneeling to make eye contact, and taking our sweet Jesus time in the process. I do this not to get them "handled" or "out of the way" but to honor the courage and strength it took for them to get there at all.

Guess what? Religious organizations are not required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Our worship and religious education spaces -- and the bathrooms that go with them -- do not have to be physically accessible. Our churches, synagogues, and mosques are under no legal obligation to provide American Sign Language translation or braille worship aids. If any of these accommodations are made, it's because someone took the moral high ground and then scraped together the funding to make accessibility possible.

For the past few years, transportation issues have prevented Ruth from attending and participating in the Mass. Maybe that'll change now that she has the van. Maybe not. She's understandably tired of the eye rolling, dramatic sighs, and sotto voce muttering about being in the way that frequently accompanies her appearance in the power chair.

I'm not sure taking the manual chair is a solution, although God knows I'd welcome the opportunity to mutter "repent" and "get out of the way" while navigating it up the nave with her in it. Might be a great way to kick off the new liturgical year.

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