Ginny Thornburgh, director of the Interfaith Initiative at the American Association of People with Disabilities, recently told Christianity Today that "too many churches have barriers to the full participation and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities—physical, sensory, psychiatric, and intellectual."
Many congregations are aware that their buildings are not as disabled-friendly as they could be. But when it comes to the estimated 54 million Americans with a disability, Thornburgh has something more fundamental than the church building in mind: "The barriers of attitude are the most difficult to address."
Those barriers are subtle, but they affect both policies on the national level and church life on the local level.
Recent research on Down syndrome reveals what common sense suggests: Negative attitudes about disabilities significantly increase the chance that a mother will have an abortion. Researchers estimate that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, 90 percent of pregnant women who find out that their child has Down syndrome will choose to terminate the pregnancy.
Brian Skotko, a pediatric geneticist from Boston, found that many doctors give to expectant parents a negative and badly outdated portrait of raising special-needs children. A Harris Poll found that medical professionals were the group most likely to be pessimistic about whether people with disabilities can lead quality lives.
Ironically, these findings come during the time of greatest opportunity for persons with disabilities. There are now 90 colleges and post-secondary schools with programs for the more than 83,000 young adults with Down syndrome. And new treatments and technologies allow disabled individuals to live longer and ...1