by Sam Paior

Inclusion—it’s a basic concept. One that Jesus was mighty good at. Tax collectors, prostitutes, people who couldn’t walk, children—you name them, he loved them.

But he didn’t just love them, he also included them. They were an integral part of Jesus’ world. Of our world. When a baby is born, parents hold a level of hope and expectation for their child: child care, kindy, primary school, high school or college, university or TAFE, a job, move out, find a partner, buy a home, have a family of their own—and so it goes.

When a family finds out that their child has a disability, that trajectory looks somewhat different: special kindy, special school, special high school, a job with an Australian Disability Enterprise (formerly known as sheltered workshops), move into a group home with strangers. A partner and children? Much less likely.

How can we change that? How can we include children and adults with disability in all areas of our spiritual and educational lives?

My 15-year-old son Ben has Down syndrome. But his life has been different from many others who share the same genetic enhancement. I have always expected him to be a fully included, valued member of my family and his community—and that includes his faith community. This hasn’t always been easy. One church wouldn’t allow him in Sunday school without my supervision (without asking even the most basic questions about how he might need to be supported). One Lutheran college never returned my calls when I inquired about enrolling him, while another told me that they received no funding to support ‘children like him’.

Leaving aside their magnificent grounds (which should surely be less important than welcoming and educating all of God’s children into our faith), these places of faith continue to shun our children and adults with disability. Whether the blocks are financial or are simply barriers of ignorance and prejudice doesn’t matter: we must do better.

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