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What is a Disability?


“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”

(Article 1: Purpose, UN Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, December 2006).

This description recognizes two aspects of disability:

A disability involves an impairment that may be noticeable to others or may be “invisible” to those who do not know the person well:

  • Physical, such as paralysis or multiple sclerosis.
  • Mental, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
  • Intellectual/developmental, such as Down syndrome.
  • Sensory, such as blindness or hard of hearing.
A disability results, in part, from various barriers that hinder full and effective participation in society. These barriers include:

  • Physical barriers, such as curbs without cutouts and non-accessible restrooms.
  • Communication barriers, such as lack of availability of large-print materials or of closed captioning of videos.
  • Attitudinal barriers that stereotype people with disabilities resulting in, for example, an employment rate of only about 40 percent for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Person-first vs. identity-first language about disability

People with disabilities are people, and it is better to talk with people than to talk about them. Only in getting to know people do we learn how each person describes or talks about themselves. One might prefer “a person with autism,” while someone else might prefer the term “autistic.” The former is considered “person first language,” and the latter “identity first.” While it is helpful to know this, it is even more helpful to know the person than it is to know their disability or their preferred descriptors.

Relationships are the most important part of being an effective advocate with persons who have disabilities

We have chosen to use “person-first language.” In churches and in general society, disability labels have been used pejoratively too often. This includes calling people “handicapped,” “wheelchair bound,” “lame,” or “schizo,” or even saying they “suffer” from a disability. To help our communities transition from viewing disability as some kind of illness or curse, person-first language helps us remember that people are first of all people. We are part of the diverse and complex tapestry that is the Christian church. However, we also appreciate and celebrate the work of disability advocates who champion identity-first language.

장애인과 함께하는 포용적인 교회 사역 안내서인 “모두가 속하여, 함께 섬기는” 책자는 미국개혁교회 (RCA), 북미주 개혁교회 (CRCNA), 기독교 지평 (Christian Horizons), 엘림 기독교 봉사 (Elim Christian Services)의 공동작업에 의해 만들어졌습니다.

판권소유. 개혁교회출판부의 허락 없이 이 책자의 전부 혹은 일부를 복제할 수 있습니다. 그런 경우 출처가 표기되어야 하며, 복제된 내용이 책자의 공식적인 버전이 아님을 미리 밝힙니다. 기타 용도로 본 책자를 사용하기 원하시는 경우 개혁교회출판부 (Reformed Church Press) 로 연락을 주시기 바랍니다. (; 616-698-7071)