UNTIL the other day, I realised that I never knew how wonderfully close Christmas is to people with disabilities.
That was after I decided to read the story of the nativity all over again.
And it wasn’t until I went through each amazing account in the Bible that the hidden truth suddenly dawned on me.
From the angel announcing the conception of the special child all the way down to the cramped inns during the very first Christmas occasion, and finally to the blessed birth in a humble manger.
Even the special child – who is the reason for this glorious season – knew exactly what it felt like to be unwanted and have no place in our society.
“No room at the inn”, was what they told his distraught parents who were frantically looking for a place to birth him.
“No room”, “no access”, “no ramps” and “no disabled toilets” are common words that are sadly still uttered today when Malaysians with physical handicaps try to get around.
And yet, many of us don’t even flinch a muscle when we stand up and declare to someone that Malaysia is a caring society.
Some of these most uncaring and unfriendly buildings are ironically churches and other places of worship that are supposed to stand up as pillars in a caring society.
Although they speak about the disabled and the elderly often; and preach to their congregation about the importance of “love” and “the need to think of others”, their actions and their architecture in most cases than not tell a totally different story.
I was talking about adding a wheelchair ramp and a disabled-friendly toilet to a member of the board of a local church only last week when her response totally took me by surprise.
“Oh ye of little faith,” she hissed, as if quoting a passage directly from the holy book.
“You don’t need to use a wheelchair,” she added. “Just come to our church and we’ll pray over you and you will walk again.
“You’ll become one of us, and then there will be no need for ramps or disabled toilets, Hallelujah!”
Years ago, another lady who was an elder in the local church which I used to go to told me the same thing.
She was the epitome of health for everyone. Whenever anyone got sick, they rushed to see her.
Even those with permanent disabilities and terminal illnesses came over to her to be prayed for in order to be healed of their sicknesses.
I never heard from her for a while and we eventually lost contact.
Then one day, she called me after getting my number from The Star.
Speaking to me on the other end of the telephone line was a totally different creature. I could hardly recognise her.
Her voice was weak and frail. It was clear that she was also extremely depressed.
And then she made the most astonishing revelation.
She told me that she – now in her sixties – was now a disabled person too.
She was told by a doctor that she had Parkinson’s disease. In fact, the medical specialist had told her that she had had the insidious condition for several years earlier without her knowing about it.
Her first reaction, she said, was to reject it. She prayed, fasted and even went to other faith healers to shake it off.
But nothing worked. She could only turn to medication to slow down the effects of the disease.
When she started using a wheelchair, she lost everything. Her independence was gone and she had to be cared for by a maid.
She lost her job and eventually all her friends too. Her church became her worst enemy because there were no ramps that could accommodate her wheelchair.
She had to hold on to her weak bladder until she got home because there was no toilet for her in her church. Several times, she also had “accidents” on her clothes that made her extremely embarrassed in front of other people.
She told me that she now realised that she had made a terrible mistake. “I should have fought for people like you then in the council, but I never dreamt that something like this could happen to me because I thought that I was protected by God.”
I couldn’t believe that the woman, who was once very hostile towards me had now become my friend – albeit over phone conversations late into the night.
She wanted to learn as much as she could about disability. I, too, learnt so much from her and how she was coping in life until she passed away, six months later.
Physical handicaps is only one aspect for a caring society to consider. Other needs include the blind, Deaf, learning disabilities to those with multiple handicaps.
Then, there are other conditions that are brought on by a heart attack, stroke, diabetes and old age.
Do we have room for all these people in our lives? And what would happen if we, ourselves, might be knocking on the Inn’s door for some help too, one day?
Have a happy Xmas from Wheel Power!
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