Finding Wholeness With Disability: First Church Members Discuss Disability, Ableism

Nov 8, 2021

Building the Beloved Community met on Zoom Wednesday night to discuss the topic of “ableism,” a form of preferential treatment for able-bodied people and discrimination against those with disabilities. Suzie Inadomi led the discussion.

Suzie’s ministry at First Church has been largely concerned with the work of welcoming and including those at church who, without advocacy, are often excluded. Suzie began learning American Sign Language (ASL) a few years ago when her father’s hearing began to decline. She has been introducing small sign language lessons into the congregation’s worship practices. The congregation now knows the signs for “peace be with you” and “and also with you.” These are small steps in a larger conversation about extending genuine peace of Christ to everyone at First Church.

“I was especially impressed by Monrovia Prinz’s story,” said Suzie. Monrovia, Pastor Matt Prinz’s daughter is deaf. She received cochlear implants to allow her to communicate verbally with non-deaf speakers. Monrovia shared with the gathering that deafness is part of her identity, and not something that she would change about herself. She expressed gratitude for her parents’ decision to implant the cochlear devices which allow her to communicate with others.

Rich Jones and Barbara Goodroe also shared their own stories. Barbara became paraplegic in 2015 from a blood clot. Barbara, a frequent Food Ministry volunteer, and her husband Wayne became keenly aware of the challenges of getting around without full mobility. These challenges have included navigating the circa 1914 and 1960 First Church campus, constructed long before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, civil rights legislation that requires public places to provide equal access and accommodation for the disabled. “Sometimes accepting help from others is a kindness I can show to those who want to help,” said Barbara, of the different treatment she receives in general since the loss of her ability to walk. Rich Jones, who is dyslexic (and recently hard of hearing), shared stories about the challenges of growing up with difficulty in reading and writing, and how those challenges were often overcome with creativity and determination.

Dorrie Dodge shared with the group about being the mother of a “profoundly developmentally disabled” daughter. Lisa Dodge, who died in 2014 at age 44, never mentally progressed beyond the age of two. She also dealt with frequent bouts of epilepsy throughout her life. Dorrie described the years of being a care giver for her daughter, and the often-traumatic experiences she had with medical professionals whom she felt had diminished feelings about her daughter’s humanity that impacted the care they provided. A Hollywood Juniper on the north side of the sanctuary front doors was planted in Lisa’s honor.

“It’s important to share and to hear these stories,” said Suzie. “Receiving other people’s stories is a great way to understand who they are and to build connections. Accepting disability is part of being whole, not everything needs to be fixed.” Building the Beloved Community events typically end with a discussion about what the community can do with the information shared, often with proposals for changes that can be enacted. “The story telling was great,” said Suzie, “but we ran out of time for that.”