In a letter to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Rev. Brittany Sparrow-Savage dives into the importance of Disability Pride Month and what it means to be a part of the disabled community.
Happy Disability Pride Month! Did you know that July is Disability Pride Month? Until five years ago, I had no idea there was such a thing. When I first heard about Disability Pride Month, I asked, “Why?” If you perceive that “Why” as ignorant and judgmental, then your observation is correct. My own ableism blinded me. I had bought into the myth that there was one way to be successful, to do things correctly, and to be fully human. As a person with a non-visible disability, I thought I could hide my neurodivergence. For me, disability was a dirty word to be ashamed of and to overcome. However, in my mid-20s, I began to grapple more deeply with the fact that my disability was a part of me and integral in how I understood myself, relationships, society, and even God.
Thanks to my friend, mentor, and local KCMO disability advocate, The Rev. Dr. Letiah Frasier, I learned why Disability Pride Month is important. Disability Pride Month is in July to commemorate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed on July 26, 1990, to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. From this came the conception of “Disability Pride,” which means understanding yourself as a person with a disability wholly, and for Christians, Holy, a human. People with disabilities are not considered human despite their disability but because of their disability. Our bodies are living billboards giving testimony to the fact that none of us are islands unto ourselves. Our canes, wheelchairs, communication aids, ramps, disability services, medical interventions, support systems, service animals, and more are the outward sign of the universal reality that we all need help to exist and thrive.
Here, we should define what some have come to call a social definition of disability. An example would be that people with disabilities are not disabled because their humanity is impaired but because society has created systems and structures that have disabled them. A person empowered to move and navigate the world because of a wheelchair is not inherently disabled but becomes disabled when buildings do not have ramps. Setting aside this month is a way to raise awareness of those implicit and explicit structures and systems that prevent people from having fair and equitable access to education, employment, and recreation. As a Christian and a clergyperson, I must reflect on how our church buildings, liturgies, and institutional structures may exclude people from being embraced in our community. This is a big question because who is in the disability community and what it means to be in the disability community is ever-changing. The good news is that we serve a big God who empowers us to tackle big questions.
In closing, I must give this disclaimer, I do not speak for the disability community at large, and not everyone with a disability feels safe and comfortable talking about their disability. Like most things, sharing one’s disability and asking someone about their disability is best done in the context of a relationship. I am giving you my permission to ask me questions about my disability, non-verbal perceptional disorder, and how I’ve learned to thrive. You can email me, and we can schedule a meeting. I would love to talk about one of the aspects of myself that makes me unique and hear about what makes you unique. These conversations could lead to ideas on how St. Paul’s can continue striving to be more inclusive.
Brittany Sparrow Savage
Assistant Rector and School Chaplain
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The Rev. Brittany Sparrow-Savage currently serves as Assistant Rector and School Chaplain at St. Paul’s, Kansas City. She also serves on the Access for All God’s Children committee.