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Friday, July 25, 2014

Ingredients for Success

Highlights from the July 15, 2014 Huffington Post article entitled "7 Ways Congregations Can Embrace People with Disabilities".

In a major study conducted by the University of Kentucky and Vanderbilt University, only 43% of the parents of children with special needs surveyed described their religious community as supportive and more than a third changed their place of worship because their child had not been included or welcomed.

The seven ways include:
  • Communication - Provide a resouce person to listen to the needs of the person with a disability and their family to learn how they can work together toward full inclusion.
  • Accessiblity - To the extent possible, meet the physical needs of the individual.
  • Support - Provide an aide or peer assistant to participate in religious education, small group ministry, etc.
  • Leadership - Faith communities where leaders are committed to including people with disabilities were more welcoming, offered greater opportunities for people to share their gifts and were more physically accessible.
  • Participation - Invite people with disabilities to sit on boards and committees and to take more visible roles in congregational life.
  • Education - Congregations that educate their members on disability issues are more welcoming and better able to integrate people with special needs into the life of the community.
  • Love - Parents of children with special needs who experienced love and acceptance reported their congregations were sources of great strength and support.
With respect,

Mark Bernstein
Congregational Life Consultant, Central East Regional Group
UUA Liaison to Equual Access

Monday, July 21, 2014

When Suicide Hits Close to Home by Rev. Barbara Meyers

By SAMHSA/White Buffalo Calf Women of the Lakota People [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The suicide of Rev. Jennifer Slade, the minister of the Unitarian Church of Norfolk, we are reminded of the seriousness of depression, and of how prevalent it can be even among the most respected members of society. Sometimes, just hearing of a suicide can be very unsettling and disturbing to people who are living with depression.

Here are some resources for people who might need to have extra support at this time:

The American Association of Suicidology is dedicated to the understanding and prevention of suicide. Links to suicide support groups nation-wide.

What to do if someone seems suicidal:

· Lane County Suicide Prevention Program

· Quinnett, Paul. Question Persuade Refer - Ask a Question Save a Life, a booklet used for training for Certified QPR Gatekeeper Instructors by the QPR Institute, 1995.

· Ellis, Thomas and Newman, Cory. Choosing to Live - How to Defeat Suicide through Cognitive Therapy, Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, 1996.

· Grollman, Earl A. Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, Postvention, Second Edition, Boston: Beacon Press, 1988.

· Heckler, Richard A. Waking Up Alive - The Descent, The Suicide Attempt and the Return to Life, New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1994.

· Jamison, Kay Redfield. Night Falls Fast - Understanding Suicide, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

After a suicide:

· Bolton, Iris with Curtis Mitchell, My Son ... My Son ... - A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide, Roswell, GA: Bolton Press Atlanta, 1983.

· Fine, Carla, No Time to Say Goodbye - Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One, New York: Broadway Books, 1997.

· Mennonite Media. Fierce Goodbye - Living in the Shadow of Suicide, Harrisburg, VA: Mennonite Media Productions.

Depression and Bipolar Disorder:

· Top 100 websites for information on depression and bipolar disorder:

· Adularia, Alysse. I Wish You'd Tell Me - A tool box of answers to the question, "What can I say that will help?" when the one you love is bipolar, Lulu, 2010.

· Fieve, Ronald. Moodswing, New York: Bantam Books, 1989.

· Jamison, Kay Redfield. Touched with Fire Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1994.

· Schaefer, Elizabeth M. Writing through the Darkness - easing your depression with paper and pen, Celestial Arts, 2008.

· Solomon, Andrew. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Ins and Outs of Mainstream Life

Two contrasting stories caught my attention this week.  One exemplifies the continuing efforts to include people with disabilities in mainstream life through various media forms.  The other dramatizes the fact that, in reality, people with disabilities are often excluded, or forgotten, from mainstream life.

The good news is that Archie has a new girl friend...and she has a disability.  After more than 70 years, the venerable Archie comic strip has finally added a person with a disability to the gang from Riverside.  Her name is Harper, cousin of Veronica (my favorite was always Betty.  Stop me when I've exceeded the nerd quotient) and she uses a wheelchair.  She is described as having a spunky personality and, according to the Archie Comics people, does not let her disability define her.  Good for you, Arch!

A new report from the National Council on Disability is urging better planning and coordination to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind in emergency situations. (Joe Burbank /Orlando Sentinel/MCT)When we move away, however, from the colorful pages of a comic book to the black and white pages of real life, we see news that is not as positive.  According to the National Council on Disability, as reported in a recent article in Disability Scoop, serious barriers continue to jeopardize the well-being of people with disabilities in the wake of disasters and other emergency situations.  Many 911 systems are still unavailable by text.  Shelters and televised emergency announcements often lack sign-language interpreters for those who are deaf.  Broadcast alerts feature language that is unclear for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  Evacuation maps and websites with emergency information are inaccessible to people with sight impairments.  Said Jeff Rosen, chair of the National Council on Disability, "The concerns of people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs in emergency situations are frequently overlooked, minimized or not even recognized until after the fact."  The agency is recommending that several federal agencies work together to establish guidelines for communicating with people with disabilities in emergency situations.  They are also suggesting more oversight, training and collaboration with the disability community.

Maybe Harper, Archie and the gang can help with that.

Mark Bernstein
Growth Consultant, Central East Regional Group and UUA Liaison to Equual Access

Monday, June 2, 2014

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (CRPD) by Arthur Tackman

Advocacy is one of our most important functions. It gives us a chance to share our views and concerns with our family, friends and colleagues as well as our political representatives. If we ban together with others who share our positions, we can add to the strength of our positions.

Right now we face a challenge getting our country to ratify the UN Convention on People with Disabilities. This treaty provides moral support and leadership on securing disability rights throughout the world.

Most UN member states have already ratified this treaty. The United States has not yet ratified this treaty. Treaty ratification was brought before the U.S. Senate on December 4, 2012 and fell 5 votes short of the two thirds needed for ratification. The New York Times editorial board published an excellent editorial on November 24, 2013, in support of ratification making it easier to work, study or travel abroad.

Opponents of the Disability Treaty have claimed that the Senate should not take up ratification until the Supreme Court had announced adecision in the Bond case. “The Supreme Court has spoken. Bond is no impediment to ratification of the Disability Treaty, and the Chief Justice has given the Senate a clear blueprint on how to ratify a treaty while preserving existingstates’ rights,” said Marca Bristo, President of the U.S. International Councilon Disabilities. “It's now time to restore American leadership on disability rights by moving forward immediately with ratification of the Disability Treaty. One billion people worldwide with disabilities have waited long enough.”

It is now time to bring the UN Convention to the Senate floor for another vote on ratification, but we need all of us to take action. Make contact with staff in your Senatorial offices to let them know that this is an important issue. Follow this link to join The Leadership Conference in sharing a message together at the same time - automatically.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Moving at a glacier pace by Warren Brown

Photo by Luca Galuzzi -
I agree that overall awareness and empathy for those with differing abilities has increased somewhat over the last 50 years. Steps such as closed captioning at movie theatres, better access for those with physical disabilities, audio versions of UU World are all wonderful. And while I think its important to acknowledge such gains, I worry about being too self-congratulatory. As a society - and more importantly as UU communities - we ARE moving at a glacier pace. That is cause for concern. I truly believe that the progress we have seen so far only represents the very lowest of the low hanging fruit. What we have done is to address the most visible and least threatening problems. Its natural to see people in wheelchairs or with walkers and want to help - and we rightly should support and applaud those efforts. However, if we were to dig just a little deeper we would see how unaware we remain of the huge number of those who have to struggle in other ways to engage in our communities. We don't see hearing loss. We often turn away from those with mental or emotional challenges. The fact is that there are many who would like to join us who could if we were more conscious of their obstacles and sincere in our desire to learn how to help.

As an advocate for those with hearing loss, I have become most aware of the issues they face. How many times have you been in a large gathering of UU's when someone stands up to speak and refuses the microphone? "I'll speak up," they say not considering those who can only hear with the help of the sound system. How many UU churches have acoustics so bad that it's hard to understand even for those with mild hearing loss? Often people avoid those places. How many are under the misconception that FM headset systems in our sanctuaries are the solution for those who have trouble hearing services? Headset systems don't address the some of the most basic requirements to help people hear. So many of us never realize that there are countless members of our congregations who struggle to hear everyday.

UU's should be on the forefront of inclusion not only for those with hearing loss but for all who face disabilities of any kind. It's not that we don't care. It's just that we don't know. That needs to change. We need to step up our efforts and bring awareness to these problems. We must strive to pay closer attention to those around us. We should never assume that because its easy for us to participate, that others share the same experience. All of us can raise our level of empathy for our neighbors. To that end, I'd like to promote a workshop "Reaching Out To Those With Hearing Loss" that EqUUal Access, Carol Agate and I will be presenting at General Assembly. I hope many of you will join us Thursday, June 26 between 4 and 5:15 pm in the Rotunda. Let us all take BIGGER steps to include those of all abilities into our UU family.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Step By Step

It may move at glacier speed, but more and more the needs of people with disabilities are being addressed in our society in ways both large and small.  The latest to catch my eye involves
the simple but universal act of enjoying a night at the movie theater.  In the Philadelphia area, and, I imagine, in many areas around the country, movie theaters are now offering small devices that discreetly display captions to the individual moviegoer.  Some theaters offer eyeglasses that display captions across the bottom of the inside surface of the lens so that only the wearer can see them.  Others provide little screens mounted on the end of flexible arms that are positioned in the moviegoer's cupholder.  While there are still occasional glitches in the accuracy of the transcriptions, this is a wonderful step forward in helping people with hearing impairments (like me) follow the dialogue and more fully enjoy the movie.

Theaters are also installing devices that aid those with visual impairments as well.  In many theaters, moviegoers can wear an audio headset that includes both the regular movie dialogue as well as the voice of a narrator who describes the action on the screen, for example, whether they are driving a car, eating a meal, or even smiling or frowning.

At the Unitarian Universalist Association, we are constantly looking for ways to use existing technology to aid Unitarian Universalists with hearing and vision problems.  For two years now, we have offered audio versions of UU World.  We are exploring ways of better utilizing closed captions on various YouTube and other videos.  We are also investigating ways of making printed materials available to people with "print disabilities" via audio books, screen reader software and braille.  Resources are available to congregations who want to enhance the sound capacity in their buildings via headsets or loop system.

Whether its watching a movie, attending a worship service or enjoying a good book, everyone deserves the right to full access.  We in the UUA, as in the general society, are getting there.  Bear with us and thanks for your patience.

Mark Bernstein
Growth Consultant, Central East Regional Group and UUA Liaison to Equual Access

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Radical Love and Inclusion

Reprinted form 30 Days of Love.

Sometimes I forget that I’m different. Sometimes I’m part of the group, participating and being myself and being accepted for who I am. And then, out of the blue, I’m put back behind the barrier, reminded that my lived experience is, definitely, different. The funny thing about those painful moments is, usually, I’m the only one in the room who even knows it happened. Usually no one intended to exclude me, and they have no idea that they did. But they have made it clear that they are sure their lived experience is better than mine.

“I could never do what you do,” one says. Uh huh, I think, wondering what they mean by that. Please, let them say something about my talent for synthesizing a discussion, or that I’m a good listener. Nope. “I would have given up.” Really? And done what with the rest of your life? Hide under the bed? I don’t believe you.

There are a million versions of it, some gentler than others, more likely to be said in my presence. “You’re so courageous.” “You could have done so much. What a waste.” “I’d rather be dead than disabled.” The message remains the same – my lived experience is too different.

I understand about the fear. We are taught to value radical independence and self-reliance. But autonomy can be over-rated. In this world full of barriers, I ask for accommodations. Even for help. Rather than diminish me, it teaches me, again, that we are inter-dependent – all contributing in different ways.

I have multiple disabilities. I use a mobility scooter. I encounter the world differently. There are a lot of things I would never have experienced running up the stairs three at a time. Perspectives I only get down here at waist-level. Conversations I would never have had, if I had not been on a “slightly different path.”

Too often, when someone inadvertently “others” me, I don’t say anything. I decide against the “teaching moment.” There are too many of them. Yet, I know I feel included when I can point out a disempowering attitude or remark as ableist, and know that my intent will not be questioned and I can take up the teachable moments.

And I know I feel included when someone takes the trouble to draw my attention to ways I am excluding someone. When they bother to take up a teachable moment with me. The communities we live in are filled with so many differences that we will, almost certainly, “other” someone from time to time without meaning to do it, and without being aware of doing it. I do it. And, if that person I just “othered” decides to make it a “teaching moment,” I hope to have the grace to listen and to experience the discomfort that comes with realizing that I messed up, again. For me, it’s part of the journey.

In faith,

Suzanne Fast