Overview of Inclusivity and Religion: Making Spiritual matters a Thing of Inclusion for Disabled Congregants

Dear readers,

I shared Ellen Stumbo’s post from the Mightete, a disabled news org, and she has a lot of things to probably unpack. Thank you for those who saw that story and wished to be a part of my spiritual life. I looked through this blog, and I saw some mistakes I might have made, identifying one man as Somali and another man as not. Who knows, but I want to truly open a timeline and a dialogue with all faiths and religions, notwithstanding the mistakes I made, but I want to put all the stuff I wrote prior to this post in one big summary timeline, and here it is. It includes what you should do with disabled congregants, and this is based on experiences I’ve had with churches.

1. First and foremost, your parking lot and door entrances have to be wide enough for wheelchairs, even if the building is rustic and old. Make some accommodations in your restrooms so that disabled people can use them. Place bars on the walls of each stall, and make the stalls wide enough so that a wheelchair user can use the stalls. Blind people should be able to ID the bathroom with a Braille sign. Place such signage above the door, or by the door on a wall in the alcove’s outer side. That’s how the signage can be easily seen, and I look for signs there. Also, make sure your Braille is proofread by a certified NLS Braille proofist, even if it’s the word handicapped. here’s a funny Braille story to show you why: The Braille sign for “and” is written with dots 1-2-3, then dots 4-6, all put together. it’s a letter y in Braille but written a bit backwards. So the dot combo is 1-2-3-4-6. However, there was a sign that was written with the “ing” sign: the dot 2 was missing from the “and” sign, so the sign that my cane teacher interpreted was the following: “Girls hingicapped.” Be careful with Braille contractions and lettering, and make sure you have a Braille cheat sheet on you to make sure all signage is correctly Brailled. The architecture of this building should reflect inclusivity. For Muslims, make sure the woodoo areas are completely user friendly, and if you insist on women and men being in separate prayer areas, do not use only stairs. Put the women in a place where wheelchairbound sisters can enjoy worship from the same floor as the men, but you must have wider doorways and the woodoo fountains should be at a level that is usable for those sisters who can’t raise their right or left hand to turn on the fountains. Make sure there are places to put shoes where a sister or brother won’t trip. This is something an old friend frequently would talk about while I was present at mosque. For Jewish ceremonies, always include your wheelchair using sisters and brothers, and for those who count themselves as orthodox or Hassidim, always always always have a door open for disabled congregants who want to join in. Even the goyem will admire your inclusivity.

2. When a congregant walks in, make sure you are welcoming to them. For Christian churches, please make sure you have alternatives to hymnals that a disabled person may use, and as a blind person, I wish I had been able to read the words to worship service songs in detail. Give the blind congregant access to the lyrics at worship services ahead of time, or let them hear a recording of the hymns you will be singing in services. For Jewish folks, same sort of thing may apply to shabbats, and for those who hate tech during shabbat, please note that an exception should be made for blind folks using Braille. Braille displays should be used in Hebrew services so they can follow along with the rabbi or congregation cantor, and make sure that the persons leading the choir and rabinical folks know about this stuff. Your Jewish blind congregants should have as much access to Hebrew scripture, Hebrew chorale pieces, and so much more so they can sing and follow along. Of course, young Jewish students should be included in Hebrew school as well, so for teachers of such, make sure your texts are written in appropriately hebrew Braille. it is in my opinion the best way to get a student familiar with the Hebrew language. It’s similar to Arabic, and I’ve seen Arabic Braille written down, but face it, the letters are pretty similar to both Roman and Hebrew script. For religious educators in Catholic circles, you need to consult the publishers of your books. Make sure the Catholic faith textbooks are written for children in Braille, and if you’re a teacher, beg the publisher for the teacher’s edition in the same format. If not Braille, kids and teachers who are blind should be given access to the same materials but in electronic format. If they use a pc or mac with screen readers, the formatting should be excellent, top quality, arranged so that pictures are captioned and labeled accordingly. This also applies to Muslim folks. Sadly, I wasn’t able to participate in Qur’an classes with my sisters in islam, but for the young folks in TAQI, or Tasir Al Qur’an Institute schools, they should be given Braille copies or electronic Arabic and English copies of the Qur’an. This way, as the prophet said, you can still gain knowledge, even if you can’t see it.

3. For all religious centers, babies should be baptized or blessed with the same dignity and pomp as with normal babies.

4. When a kid grows up, and with adults growing in faith, let the person experiment or teach them the science behind the choices they make with procreation. While i’m not a fan of the Catholic or Christian ideological senses of don’t have sex until marriage, please note that disabled children and adults face the most poverty because of that very thing. Disabled men become predators sometimes because they are not taught how to keep their sex organs to themselves, and disabled women get objectified. We need to create a welcoming and safe space for all, including disabled people. All religious centers and community churches should include a consent class, a code of honor and consent for all congregants and brothers and sisters. While islam has strictures of family honor tied right into the religion itself, I would encourage Muslims to research and understand the rules about consent in modern culture. islam must conform to let females make all choices, and even in cultures where this is not the case, females must be able to say no if they see something wrong or abusive about a man. This definitely includes disabled females. I left islam because I didn’t want to have to marry a stranger, and I wasn’t about to get barefoot and pregnant with someone i hardly understood how to please anyway. I would have also had superiority games played on me if I married a sighted guy, which the Muslim brothers suggested. Unfortunately, for these brothers, I married a non Muslim blind guy, and I won’t be coming back. I love my sisters, and I understand if the sisters insist I walk back, but I can’t do any such thing because islam has become a contested religion here in this country. I’ve been disrespected by a doctor who swore i was “pretending to be Arab”, and was trolled on Facebook for this very thing. I don’t subscribe to religious views that contradict my own core beliefs about me, and that should be what matters.

5. When a bride and or grooms and brides or couple comes to you and your religious center for marriage, get their story. If a couple wanting to wed is disabled, offer the commitment ceremony option first. I want to shout out to Jenny, my minister from Jefferson unitarian Church. I wanted a woman minister to lead my wedding commitment ceremony because I was not, I repeat not, going to submit to a man in everything, and I was just about done with the patriarchal … dare I say it? Bullshit. patriarchs like some of the priests that abuse women and boys should never be allowed to do weddings anyway. If a bride or groom is not supported because of financial disability, physical disability, or anything else, offer to pay for everything. St. Bernadette’s Catholic church paid for the catering of the wedding of a dear friend of mine, but the bride also had the support of her family. Since Trenton and I did not have the support of church and family, and the pandemic had ruined all churchgoing plans, jenny came by our apartment and we had no ring bearer. We also had a guy doing camera angling for the phone. I recorded my commitment ceremony on Facebook Live. It was a beautiful ceremony, and I honestly wish I had more support, but it was true to us. We had a biblical reading of course, but we also had a wisdom reading from another spiritual source, something I really wish other Christians would consider. Weddings are an important part of life as a human being, and even if the bride is incapacitated, offer the support she needs to fight back and marry the man she loves. I had no support, and now I’m having to sue my own family for damages related to the guardianship. They are very hostile if confronted, but they don’t get it. They never wanted me to legally get married, and I didn’t, but I’m still committed to Trenton and will stay that way for life. Anyway, i’m glad I did my own wedding, but with church supports and no pandemic, it could have been better.

6. Offer support for disabled adults wishing to integrate kids into the mix. Whether the family is getting started or has been started, please, please welcome disabled people’s kids. Baptize them or commit them or dedicate them as above, if they consent. In most Protestant churches, baptism must be given if faith is strong enough and if you’re eighteen. Also, scriptural abuse cannot be tolerated whether it’s committed against the parental couple or the kids themselves. For parents everywhere, disabled or not, always have an open line of communication with your kids about sex abuse and spiritual abuse. If your child is abused spiritually by a church, leave that congregation immediately.

7. If a parent with disabilities wants to know how their kid is doing in spiritual circles, they need to ask about it. Churches should be a welcome and safe space for all kids, including those with disabilities and colored folks, any stripe and color included but not limited to black, brown, polka dots, purple, etc.

8. If the parent of a disabled congregant in your church dies, be with the person and show them the grieving process. Give them bereavement resources in your spiritual center, and let them come to you for guidance. As a minister or cleric in your spiritual center, you should be a good ear to bounce off all the stuff the child or young adult is facing in the death of their loved one. If the disabled adult is facing terminal conditions related to their disability, give them the hospice resources they deserve. Give them a good sendoff whether they are nonbinary or otherwise. Islam insists on strict gender conformity, but to those who practice Native beliefs, the two spirit people should be honored above all else. For those who are nonbinary who were shunned from communities for being nonbinary or LGBTQ+, please note that there are people who won’t condemn you to hell, so if you’re on the heaven bound train, find the right person for your funerary care. It will be worth your while.

9. Never put any sort of discipline in place that would disfavor disabled adults who are living in houses outside marital status with someone of the opposite sex. Trenton and I were abused and frequently targets of sin related comments from my former church. I feel that all churches should discipline anyone who abuses a disabled woman and calls her a whore, not blame her for being a whore at all. Churches must if anything have a discipline system in place to keep predators from working with youngsters, but above all, they should never define marriage as between a man and a woman who is able. Ableist marriage practices in churches make marriage difficult, along with those financial penalties from SSI. Please beware the issues we disabled people face.

10. Never tell someone they can’t come back because of their disability, and don’t make them confess sins they didn’t commit. I can’t fess up to sins, I didn’t commit the sins of being sexually abused. that’s not a sin. A sin is what my exes have done. Not my living with Trenton, not my commitment to him either.

Thank you all for reading this, and I hope you enjoy the blog further.

Beth

Can’t Say I Told you So

Dear readers,

I can’t say I warned you all ahead of time about the abuses of some blind men, within and without the National Federation of the Blind. Unfortunately, my story had a bad ending, and I was banned from the NFB National Association of Blind Students Mailing List, so I dropped out of college twice. I hate being a dropout, and I wish I could get more support from the disability community, but alas, that was not the case. With people such as Wes D. and Bill B. harassing and intimidating people like me, it gets a lot worse. They rallied around Jason and hee has been known to be a predator since he started dabbling in dating young girls. I don’t know if he was a member of the Georgia NFB, but it pains me to write that the patriarchy’s days are over. It’s time for women to band together and stand up for what has to happen next. Here are the reforms I will suggest to the higher ups if I must, but I want all of you to write these things down in your notes on your phones or tablets for safe keeping.

1. We need a female leader in the NFB, someone with passion and power beyond a white person’s understanding. I think that delegation should go to Monique Melton, my former travel instructor at Colorado Center for the Blind, if she still does things with the NFB. She’s a no nonsense woman who would say, “Enough of that lady crap.” She’d make us repeat the same damn routes, certainly, but with greater precision she’d map out what we needed to do. I was one of her star students, I knew the address system, and funny I can still repeat it back if asked. I nominate Mo because not only will she represent blind people and females, but those of color as well. If I’m not mistaken, she will represent all of us, color or no color. But we desperately need a female who can rule the federation with an iron will, someone who can do the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher, sort of, but it might offend some Irish folks if I wrote that. Thatcher was a tyrant to some poor Irish folks, so I don’t know what to use as an example, but Mo wouldn’t put up with men and their bullshit, not at all. She’s a powerhouse that I think works at DVR but she’s doing great things wherever she works. She should be given the leader position over any of the remarkable Marks or whatever because that’s who she is. She’s a born leader.

2. We need a survivor’s panel to discuss matters of the conduct code investigation, and no tribunals should be done at all in the org itself, rendering any defense of the accused null and void. IF someone gets accused of sexual or other misconduct, please report this to the NFB Code of Conduct people, I’ll post an email address below for those who want it. There is a phone number but I don’t want to be blindly accused of posting phone numbers in the blog, so I’ll do an email address instead. In any case, we need a survivor’s panel and an advisory board on this matter to investigate and interview victims with empathy and all the things that come with gentleness. We need to gently get the stories out of people who are abused, whether in or out of the organization. This may include some children in the summer programs, Buddy and Step programs included, and some in our Earn and Learn High School program in Colorado. I’m serious, this is something near and dear to my heart. We need to make these changes soon.

3. Any man who is accused and adjudicated by local authorities, including those in Louisiana and Colorado should be thinking about what they did wrong. They should be placed behind bars, under armed guard for a few years. Then, when they are released on parole, they need to be on probation, under strict controls just like nondisabled offenders. They need to be in psychological counseling and group therapy with nondisabled and likely other types of offending persons. IF they are male, they go to a men’s group. If female, the same. I know for a fact that there are pedophiles in every aspect of the world, including the disabled community. Situational molesters should be taken a lot more seriously though, and that’s because pedophiles are more often caught. We need to educate all our young people to watch for the Five Stages of Abuse, something I will write about and talk about later in the blog. Stay tuned.

4. We need to make consent classes mandatory for all students, regardless of gender identity and sexual preference. LGBTQi+ peoples are not exempt from bad behavior, and. pedophiles are not a sexual orientation, let me be clear. It’s a mental disorder that harms children. Situational molesters are harder to spot, more cunning in their seduction and the moves they make, so can easily go under the radar. What we need to do is do consent classes for all future students and staff at all live in training centers for disabled people, including the structured discovery places for blind people. Poor behavior should not be an excuse to dismisss a girl who’s going through shit, and if catcalling is detected in the halls, let the men who do it be called out for their actions.

I’m sad to say that the NFB did not take people seriously, so if you have a story to tell, please email them at the following email address: code@nfb.org

Please email your story to the email address I just provided and let them hear you. Vote out all the males in the top leadership positions, and we also need to nominate the right peeople to run the organization. Monique, if you’re reading this, I hope you forgive me for nominating you if you don’t want the job, but we need something other than a white privileged or white male leading this organization. There is so much intersectionality within the disabled community, and the indigenous peoples of that community are hurt most of all, especially because of lack of access to healthcare, frequent sexual abuse, and so much other crap. Minorities like Hispanics and Blacks are frequently targeted, but speaking out should not be a means for punishment. Please, Julie D.and others who are reading this, call on your staff to make reformatory decisions regarding the Colorado Center, and if Pam in Louisiana reads this, do something fast. To those who are at the training centers currently, I haven’t forgotten about you. BLIND Incorporated also needs to be a part of the conversation, and this may result in a firestorm, hopefully not too bad of one, but one of change and reflection on why the organization failed to protect its young people. Thank you for reading this blog, and for those who support the NFB, please do better. Fluffy press releases and codes of conduct must at all times be reevaluated, and they won’t do enough. Don’t just cover yourselves, and I don’t want to see death threats aimed at me. I don’t have the money for extra security for a building with a gated area. So please, if you’re the Karen in Avilar who thinks it’s funny to make death threats on me, don’t. Anyone who makes death threats will be reported to the appropriate law enforcement, I won’t bother publishing your number anywhere. But do know this: sexual abuse survivors I am on your team. We will march together as women, banded together by determination to dismantle the male privileged society that we can’t live with anymore.

Sincerely yours in service,

Your sister,

Beth