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Sensitivity and fairness to disabled people

by
02 July 2008

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From the Revd Peter Mackriell
Sir, — I was moved to read of the recent experience of the Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Kenneth Stevenson (Comment, 27 June), and am thankful that he has had the courage not only to share that experience, but also to recognise “thoughtless behaviour in the past”.

His overview of the history of disability awareness and legislation in Britain alerts us to the ways in which society has moved ahead of the Church in rejecting intolerance and seeking justice. I think that he is right to suggest that our theology has remained undeveloped in the area of disability, and that more thought and prayer need to be given to an issue that affects far more people than we might assume.

This is an exciting challenge to us, and it comes with integrity from the Bishop in the context of such a personal reflection. Dr Stevenson finds Jesus with the marginalised; and I would say that that has been my experience, too, in the privileged position of Chaplain working with Deaf People in North-East Wales. I have been marginalised, too, when working in the Deaf community, where I am out-numbered and challenged in my ability to communicate.

These are opportunities for growth. Networking with people with a range of disabilities has also shown me how much I have to learn, how easy it is to jump to conclusions, and how much better it is to listen than to speak. Above all, such encounters have been creative, as Christians together have found new ways of communicating, new ways of worshipping, and new ways of thinking about God.

My only sadness is that it should take a crippling experience of illness, as may come to any of us, for us to hear the prophetic voice of the marginalised. Must I experience these things in order to be able to imagine them? Can I, a heterosexual, able-bodied man, imagine what it is to be female, disabled, or gay? Perhaps a little more imagination — and a lot more listening — would go a long way in the Church in which we find ourselves today.
PETER MACKRIELL
The Rectory, Halkyn
Holywell CH8 8BU

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