Hidden Disability, Hidden Treasure (Ros' Blog)
Recently, while doing some research on disabled characters in the Bible, I came across an interesting theory, put forward by a Jewish author, that Esau may have had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It might explain why his mother found the foetal movements during pregnancy excessive, why he liked to be physically active, out hunting as often as possible, why his behaviour was impulsive and why he failed to anticipate the consequences of his actions. It might also explain why he married women who were likely to upset his parents without considering that it might have this effect and why, when he realised his parents were ensuring that his brother Jacob didn’t do the same thing, the penny finally dropped and he tried to make amends by taking a third wife, his cousin.
It reminded me of Ann Memmott’s suggestion that Nicodemus may have been autistic. He seemed to want to avoid socialising, and so came to Jesus at night, after the crowds had dissipated. He didn’t recognise that Jesus was speaking figuratively when he talked about being born again. Instead he took the phrase literally and asked, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” He attached great importance to applying the rules, and got upset when others did not do so. He was intensely loyal to Jesus, even when this meant being misunderstood or despised. And when he prepared spices for Jesus’ burial, he got really carried away and prepared a ridiculously excessive amount – imagine carrying a weight equivalent to nearly 35 bags of sugar along the road to the tomb, an amount which, in today’s money, would be worth in the region of £200,000.
I don’t know about you, but when I think about disabled characters in the Bible, I think of Mephibosheth, or Moses with his speech defect, or the paralysed man let down through the roof to Jesus. But maybe, hidden within the pages of the Bible are other people who struggled with disability, yet whose impairments are not so visible. And when you think about it, this shouldn’t really surprise us.
Studies show that around 19% of the UK population have some kind of disability. Many of these disabilities are not visible. You can’t tell, by looking at the woman who parks in a blue badge space and walks into the supermarket, that she has fibromyalgia and on another day might not even be able to get out of her chair. You can’t tell, by looking at the puzzled commuter staring in bewilderment at his fellow passengers rushing across the bridge to another platform, that he is deaf and hasn’t heard the announcement about the change of platform. You can’t tell from watching the angry child shouting defiantly at his mother in the supermarket, that he’s autistic and the sensory overload of the retail environment is on the point of pushing him into a full blown meltdown. You can’t tell by looking at the woman occupying the priority seat on the bus that she has a heart condition which would exhaust her if she had to stand for the journey.
As in the Bible, and as in society, so in your church. There will be many people whose disabilities are concealed. Some of them will be acutely embarrassed about their impairments and will go to considerable lengths to keep them hidden.
This is why Dave Lucas of Disability and Jesus encourages churches to produce all their documents in accessible format, because there will almost certainly be some visually impaired people in the church who don’t want to embarrass themselves by asking for a special large-print version. If everybody is given the large print version, they are spared the awkward choice between declaring their impairment or not being able to read the hymns and notices. A handrail alongside the steps will benefit everybody, not just the man with cerebral palsy who finds negotiating steps a challenge where there is no handrail. Making a point of using a microphone every time not only helps those deaf people who you know about, who use the induction loop, but also those older members who aren’t yet quite ready to admit that their hearing isn’t all it used to be.
What can your church do to make sure that no one, however concealed their impairment, misses out on all you have to offer?