[I found this image in a piece by Wayne Deakin, entitled, Meet the Invisible Minority: Why My Autism and Neurodiversity Are Gifts to the Industry. I recommend reading it. Image Description: On a white background, a human brain is viewed from above. The brain is drawn with black lines, and colorful splotches of red, green, blue, yellow, and purple are present in the center of the brain, moving outward onto the white background.]
As I’ve shared throughout the week, Disability Activists Mia Mingus, Sandy Ho, and Alice Wong have recently launched a campaign on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook called #AccessIsLove, framing accessibility as an act of love and a priority for moral inclusion — not an afterthought, not a burden, and not an inconvenience to be avoided. Throughout this week, I am writing about issues of accessibility in churches, and as I do so, I want to spotlight the perspectives of disabled people and communities impacted by inaccessibility. Today, I want to spotlight the autistic community and people with sensory-processing diversity. (I also recommend following these folks on social media).
The Gift of Being Oneself
I want to begin with this beautiful TED Talk by Rosie King, an autistic speaker who shares, “I wouldn’t trade my autism and my imagination for the world.”
Rosie King says, “But if you think about it, what is normal? What does it mean? Imagine if that was the best compliment you ever received: ‘Wow, you are really normal.’ But compliments are, ‘You are extraordinary,’ or ‘You step outside the box.’ It’s, ‘You’re amazing.’ So if people want to be these things, why are so many people striving to be normal? Why are people pouring their brilliant, individual light into a mold? People are so afraid of variety, that they try and force everyone, even people who don’t want to or can’t, to become normal.”
“I’m going to leave you with one question: If we can’t get inside the person’s minds, no matter if they’re autistic or not, instead of punishing anything that strays from normal, why not celebrate uniqueness and cheer every time someone unleashes their imagination?”
The Gift of Being Ourselves in Community
Congregations, like all communal spaces, have community members with phenomenal gifts of imagination, a variety of communication styles, and unique ways of processing sensory information. When we privilege only a few limited ways to experience, communicate, or process information, we become inaccessible to those who do so differently. We may become exclusionary or discriminatory as well, stigmatizing those who communicate and process in ways that are different from ‘the norm.’
When we are accessible, however, we consider the unique gifts and needs of the people in our community, both uplifting and accommodating a variety of ways to participate, contribute, lead, belong, and receive care from one another.
— I would like to spotlight this video series, entitled, Creating an Autism-friendly Church. It was created by autistic community members in Asheville and faculty and students from The University North Carolina, Asheville. It includes includes four short videos with suggestions of ways to create “inclusive, religious environments for autistic and neurodiverse church members.”
— The Rev. Leanne Masters is the pastor of Southern Heights Presbyterian Church in Lincoln Nebraska. Together, she and the members of the congregation have become advocates for autistic children and adults, seeking to create an inclusive environment in their worship space. They have created an adaptive bulletin which features pictorial icons, giving a visual order to the worship service and inviting participation. And they provide weighted lap blankets to people who may find them calming, particularly those who have sensory-processing sensitivities. You can read about this here: Adaptive Worship Bulletin ‘Shows’ As Well as Tells.
— The Rev. Katy Stenta is the pastor of New Covenant Church in Albany, NY. Together, they have started a new worshipping community called Trailpraisers designed to provide an experiential worship service that includes the participation and leadership of people who communicate and process sensory information in a variety of ways.
Happy Valentines Day: Share the Love!
Today is Valentines Day, and I’d like to express my gratitude to Sandy Ho (@notyouravgho on Instagram), Mia Mingus (@mia.mingus on Instagram), and Alice Wong (@disability_visibility on Instagram). They are the people who started the #AccessIsLove campaign. If you’ve been learning from this series I’ve been creating, please check out the #AccessIsLove website where you can learn from them directly. And please provide support by giving a buying their #AccessIsLove swag. It’s great stuff!
Tomorrow, we will conclude the formal #AccessIsLove series on Smuggling Grace (some lovely disability theology tomorrow) but let’s keep this conversation going!
I’m also offering some other resources below so feel free to check them out too.
This post is part of a series entitled #AccessIsLove. Feel free to check out the other pieces also:
And some additional resources for your consideration:
— Thoughts on ‘Differently-Abled’ — Disability activist Jocy Mon (@Jocyofthedragons on Instagram) shares why she doesn’t like disability euphemisms like ‘differently-abled.’
— Video: Things Not To Say to An Autistic Person (If you need to know this ahead of time, this video includes some cursing).
— Every Brain is Beautiful: The Autism Advantage by Dr. Lynda M. Ulrich
— My Complicated Thoughts on Neurodiversity by Emily S. Cutler