A Reflection on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Written by Nicole Flynn, a person who has lived experience, 2021 Graduate of Loyalist College General Arts & Science Diploma, member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Tweed, Ont.

The significance of December 3 is the global recognition of people who have a disability. In 1992, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was announced by the United Nations General Assembly. The purpose of this day is to increase the awareness of the issues that affect people who have a disability. The goal is to increase the number of allies and activate world support to ensure people who have a disability gain full citizenship, rights, freedom, power and prosperity. It is important to raise the voice of people who have a disability to guarantee their involvement in all the ideological aspects of society: political, social, economic and cultural. On the first Friday of December each year, there is a gathering in appreciation of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations headquarters in New York. People are encouraged to acknowledge this day globally, to take the time to learn, experience, listen to and engage with people who have a disability.

I think the most important message to share with the church is that people who have a disability are people first. Society generates barriers and perpetuates negative attitudes, not the person. For churches that would like to become more inclusive, I suggest you invite and welcome people who have a disability to your programs and activities. Get to know the person, and ask if there is anything that would benefit their participation within their comfort zone. Assume the person has ability and trust the person’s decision-making capacity to increase their autonomy and decrease the assumed compliance. This can create a new atmosphere in the church, a fresh start of positivity, where all people are included and accepted for who they are. Demonstrate the actions of Jesus and gather all people together in love, developing an environment of peace and harmony.

It is important to ask God to open the minds, eyes and hearts of the leaders who are in attendance at the UN celebration to see people who have a disability as the person they are. To recognize that God made all the people of the world as beautiful and different as the colours in the rainbow. To understand God’s intention to make people different in reflection of the Maker who created us from nature. Lifting this date in prayer is noteworthy in order to raise the people from around the world who are gathered into God’s hands for guidance and love.