I can’t see, I really cannot see!” Teresa Ng tried repeatedly to convince the disbelieving supermarket cashier who had just pointed her to the payment terminal, instead of guiding her there.

To be fair, there is little in her appearance to suggest that Teresa suffers from a degenerative eye condition, which causes blurred vision. It took a bit more explaining for the cashier to realise the situation and change her tune to be more helpful.

Teresa ‘s point was that one need not wear dark sunglasses and hold a white cane to be a person with impaired vision. Another encounter she shared was how a “kind soul” had pushed a wheelchair user down a ramp he had just taken great pains to mount, without being asked!

These were examples from the Being a Neighbour introductory workshop on 4 May that illustrated how many of us do have stereotypes or assume to know the needs of people with disabilities. It was conducted by Koinonia Inclusion Network (KIN), where Teresa is a consultant,

The sharing helped me understand the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) landscape better and how our church can be more welcoming for people of all abilities. The speakers provided an overview of various types of disabilities and their characteristics. Universally, there are many forms of disabilities and each person may have varying degrees of impairment, but they fall under three main categories – physical, sensory and developmental.

What was important for me were the ways that we can ensure the safety and accessibility of our spaces and events, and the respectful way to communicate and interact with them. I group them into three buckets using book analogies (sorry, occupational hazard of being a librarian!):

• Don’t judge a book by its cover

People with hearing loss or who are on the autism spectrum may not visually display a difference in abilities until we interact with them.  Therefore, don’t assume that they are ignoring us when we speak to them, and get upset.  Understanding the characteristics helps us to be more sensitive to people who are differently abled, and allows us to interact with them better.  The church’s role in Disability Inclusion can be seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus taught us about the extent of being a good neighbour. In building relationships with people who are different from us, the Good Samaritan demonstrated 4Ps in showing love: To be Patient, Perceptive, Persistent and Prudent. And it all starts with having empathy.

• Give it the right title

The workshop shed light on a people-first language that aids to remove misconceptions and stereotypes.  This refers to preferred words to describe people with different conditions, such as ‘wheelchair user’ as opposed to ‘wheelchair-bound”, and ‘person with hearing loss’ instead of ‘hearing-impaired’ or ‘deaf’.  The main idea is that we are all differently abled, made and loved by God.

• If God created the story, stick to it to the end

The Good Samaritan did not just stop to assess the injured victim, but he also took care of his wounds, brought him to an inn to be taken care of, and told the innkeeper that he would come back to check on him. Our quest to be an inclusive church is not a one-time encounter or effort, but needs to be a life-long or long-term commitment.  Our Lord is giving us the opportunities, so let us embark on this journey for the long haul.

Basically, all of us can do our part to fulfil our mission to be a family blessed to bless the community and the nations. It all starts with a simple prayer and an open heart.