Reaching High School Friends with Disabilities

February 16, 2011

Last night I took one of my high school friends who has down syndrome to a college basketball game. Another one of my friends who works with students with disabilities pointed out that I was unintentionally using language that could be seen as offensive to the student and his family. I was grateful for his insight and thought I would pass it along to all of you. He told me the best way to speak to and about people with disabilities is using “people first language.” I think this chart below is valuable:

Let’s be Young Life leaders who model this, putting people first, instead of lumping kids with disabilities into a category. Although it is still sometimes uncomfortable, I want to continue to build relationships with not just the popular and easy to meet high schoolers, but also the ones who have been marginalized. My guess is that if Jesus were a YL leader, that’s who he’d be hanging out with. “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:13-14).

Our YL leader challenge for the week is this: find out if there are students with disabilities in your high school and ask the faculty how you as a YL team can begin to build relationships with those students. If there’s not a program that focuses on students with disabilities at your school, find out where there is one in your area and take your campaigners alongside you to begin reaching out to them. Just because we’re not “Capernaum YL Leaders” doesn’t mean we can ignore kids who are so dear to the heart of our Father.

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:35-36).

“Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man . . . ” (Mark 1:41)

“Go out…into the streets and alleys…and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21).

If you would like to read more, here is a linkto a 30 page PDF that is geared towards teenagers. Pages 27-30 are the most helpful.

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