A few years ago, I was out in my community when I came across a group of Christian evangelists. As soon as they saw that I was in a wheelchair, they immediately said something to the effect of, "We'll pray for God to heal you." Unfortunately, this kind of experience is not unique (I have heard other people with disabilities tell me of similar experiences). It was not their faith that turned me off. I have been a Christian my whole life. But like many other people, whether or not they have a faith or spirituality, these individuals assumed as soon as they saw me that my greatest need to make my life better was the ability to walk (or getting rid of my disability altogether).
Many people with disabilities and their families are part of religious, faith and spiritual communities. Although often well-meaning, a lack of education about disabilities can create barriers in these communities.
Attitude is one such barrier, like the individuals I met on the street. They noticed my disability and my wheelchair before they noticed me. Some people believe that any type of disability or illness is a punishment from God for something that the individual or a close relative did. Instead of being received with one of these harmful attitudes, people with disabilities and their families have to be seen as people first with unique gifts and needs. We can't tell just by looking at a person what they need.
Another type of barrier is physical. I was quite fortunate because the churches that I have attended have mostly been physically accessible, but sometimes smaller groups within the church are hosted in people's homes which are not accessible and transportation to and from people's houses can be challenging when the bus may drop you off very early or pick you up really late.
Recently, I saw presentations about theology and disability. It is encouraging to know that other people are thinking about this important issue and I hope that this will be the beginning of a larger discussion that will make such communities more inclusive for people with all abilities.