Claiming the “Fearsome Possibility”
Toward a Contextual
Christology of Disability
KIMBERLY ANNE WILLIS
Crippled. Handicapped. Handicapable. Handicopeable. Challenged. Impaired. Disabled. Differently abled. While numerous terms have been developed to refer to persons with disabilities, there is a lamentable paucity of critical theological scholarship addressing the human experience of disability, even as the number of persons with disabilities continues to increase. In 1989 the National Organization on Disability (NOD) reported that figure at 35 million Americans; in 1990, the year the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, it stood at 43 million, or about one in six. In 2002 NOD estimates 49.7 million North Americans are living with a disability, reflecting an increase of 6.7 million persons with disabilities over twelve years.1 Broader definitions of disability and technological advances in medicine are just a few of the factors that ensure the number of persons with disabilities will continue to rise.
But the experience of disability is certainly not confined to the United States. The United Nations estimates that there are over 500 million persons with disabilities worldwide. Thus, approximately 10 percent of our global population is a part of this growing minority group. Of this 10 percent, an estimated two-thirds live in developing countries.2 Many of these persons live in rural areas where limited access to medical care and necessary resources substantially increases their likelihood of long- term disability.
Yet we must also acknowledge the innate limitations of such numbers. Numbers are not people. They cannot tell us their stories of living with a congenital disability, acquiring a disability through injury or disease, or shifting between the states of temporarily able-bodiedness and disability. Numbers may reveal how many persons with disabilities attend a religious service, but they cannot disclose how persons