Twenty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. For at least one person who attended the signing, that Act was something much greater than just one more law coming out of D.C. It was a demonstration of what Christian worldview can look like in practice.
Joni Eareckson Tada, a Christian author, artist, and activist, was in the audience that day. As you probably know, a diving accident back in 1967 tragically left Joni a quadriplegic. Since then she’s been a tireless advocate for disabled people around the world.
Joni’s ministry, Joni and Friends, has provided everything from gift baskets to wheelchairs for the disabled. But perhaps the single most important thing that Joni does is, as her website puts it, “aggressively promoting life, human dignity and the value of all individuals-despite their disabling condition-from a biblical perspective.”
You see, ministering to the disabled taught Joni something about the sanctity and value of every human life. That’s why she takes a strong and principled stand against abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and other practices that demean and destroy life. That’s why she has fought for people like Terri Schiavo, who couldn’t fight for herself. And that’s why she supported the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Don’t see the connection? Well, let me take a moment and read you something Joni wrote for CNN’s website:
“I believe most of us recognize intellectually that we are all created equal, but we need to help children and young adults go deeper in understanding what disabled people contribute to society and how valuable they are as human beings, not just to God, but to all of us . . . This was our original intent with implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act 20 years ago, and it must remain our goal as a society that no one, no matter how disabling the condition, is discriminated against-not just in deed but also in word and attitude. To have real social change, we must have heart change.”
Well, as you can see, for Joni, helping create better access and equal opportunities for the disabled was never about political correctness or government expansion. It was about something that goes much deeper than that: shaping a society that reflects and embraces the God-given value of each human being. It’s about demonstrating in practical terms what it means to honor, respect, and care for the ones Jesus might have called “the least of these my brethren”-the ones who need a little assistance from the rest of us.
It’s about helping them live full, productive lives. Isn’t that what a biblical worldview is all about?
Joni wrote in her article, “I pray everyone will join with me in honoring this 20th anniversary by renewing our own personal commitment to check our attitudes, get over our own fear and discomfort, and befriend the person behind the disability in our own community, church, workplace, school or neighborhood.”
That’s my prayer as well, and I hope it will be the prayer of all of you. Honoring and advocating the God-given sanctity of human life begins with honoring the life of the person right next to us, including the disabled.
This commentary was first published on August 12, 2010.