Dignity for Those with Disabilities

Oct 4, 2021 12:57:56 PM Sarah Rymer

As a new IDEAS Associate, I’m still settling into my role as Director of Projects for one of our international partners in Tunisia. Recently, I asked one of the Project Managers what had inspired his passion for helping people with disabilities work towards greater autonomy.

Increasing Dignity for Those with Disabilities

He explained that his passion grew as he reflected on the following 4 elements of what it means to be created in the image of God:

  1. Being worthy of dignity and respect
  2. Having a voice
  3. Having dominion
  4. Living in community

In surveys with close to 150 people with disabilities, their family members, and the staff of local resource centers, the Autonomy Project Manager found that many people with disabilities in Tunisia lacked dignity, a voice, and dominion because their family members spoke for and acted on their behalf and without their input.

Often, family members did not believe that people with disabilities were capable of speaking, thinking, or acting for themselves, even in things as simple as choosing their own clothes in the morning or assisting with basic household chores. 

In addition, the survey found that many people with disabilities were kept out of community and hidden at home to avoid shame. Jesus was once asked, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The idea that a person’s disability is a punishment for disobedience to God and therefore a cause for shame was prevalent during Jesus’s time and persists today in many parts of the world, including North Africa.

In the most extreme case, the Project Manager found one young man with untreated mental illness who was kept chained to a post in the family home because the family felt it was the only way to contain his disability-related behavior.

As a result of this research, our partner agency developed a project to bring about transformation in Tunisia by helping people with disabilities, their families, and the local associations who serve them learn how to build skills in activities of daily living as a path to increased agency, dignity, and inclusion. In addition, the project led the groups in discussions about fundamental human rights, how to protect them, and how to advocate for equity and access.

IDEAS believes in the functional integration of culture, that helping people change their view of social structures and societal values can expand their ability to understand God’s love and sacrifice for them. The idea that God created humanity in His image and wants to live in an intimate relationship with us is unacceptable in Tunisian culture because it brings Almighty God down to the level of humanity.

However, as the Autonomy Project works to build broader acceptance of the ideas that people with disabilities are worthy of dignity, respect, a voice, dominion, and community, it paves a path for participants to recognize themselves as image-bearers and to develop a deeper and more personal relationship with God our creator.

As I embark on my new role as Director of Projects, I look forward to working with many more projects like this one that seek to transform both hearts and lives through real world implementation of heavenly values.

 

 

About the Author: Julia is an IDEAS Associate and moved to Tunisia in 2021. She will be overseeing community needs assessments, project development and implementation, local partner relationships, and impact measurement for an IDEAS partnering project. Enjoy other blogs by Julia, such as My First 90 Days: Adjusting Cross-Culturally as a New IDEAS Associate.

    

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