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SWPA States

Dancing between Text and Tradition:Religion and the Individual with Disabilities
    Victoria Zascavage     Xavier University
    Ginger Kelley McKenzie     Xavier University

This qualitative study addresses the attitudes and perceptions of religious leaders and clergy, through interviews with a select group within the Muslim, Catholic Christian, Protestant Christian, and Judaist faith, regarding what their specific religion states about persons with disabilities and the historical precedent surrounding such perceptions. The leaders of these religions provide a critical insight on varied levels of disability construct that still exist within their religious communities, an insight which speaks to “a dance between text and tradition”.
Nineteen information rich participants, within four religious affiliations and representative of three age groups responded to the following question: What is your understanding of the purpose/meaning/significance of disability according to the teaching of your religious community? Interviews were deconstructed using constant comparison to establish overall themes and subthemes. The majority of deconstructed dialogue reflected a demeaning attitude such that individuals with disabilities were expected to cope as in the statement “everyone has challenges”. Individuals with disabilities were trivialized as evident by the statement”. It’s the intention behind the worship not the accuracy”. Individuals with disabilities were portrayed as evidence of sin and corruption, condemned by God, the visual evidence of the fallen state of the world. This attitude is reflected in the statements “ Corruption affects us obviously ethically more, but it also even affects us physically”…”and is a wound on the being of the person.”
While the preponderance of dialogue spoke to stigma there was also evidence of acceptance of those with disabilities. Overall the accepting responses reflected that an individual with disability is “part of God’s creation…a meaningful role in the community” even to the extent of saying disability is a “manifestation of God’s grace” since it allows us “to know God in a deeper way and to develop compassion, to share in the sufferings of Christ and therefore to advance in our relationship with the Lord.”
The study concluded that the stigma associated with persons with disabilities strings across religions and cultures and is not contained in a generation nor controlled by legislation. While it is not consistent amongst all persons in any one religion, acceptance and stigmatization is present in all religions. We agree and support the position taken by Weisel and Zaidman (2003) that religion “.has the potential to encourage tolerance towards others and to instill the obligation to care and offer treatment and support. However, it can also emphasis the different status of persons with disabilities and thus accept or even foster prejudice and discrimination.”
This poster will include the subthemes and themes developed in this research and critical dialogue to support these themes. The generational perspectives are related to activity within the disability rights movements of the age. The overall dialogue is compared to fundamental literature on the position of each religion on the value of the person with disabilities (i.e. US Catholic Bishops, United Catholic Conference 1978).

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