At the 2004 SLC Sunstone Symposium, there was a session sponsored by Dialogue titled 'Persons with Disabilities and the Church.' On this panel sat several people whose lives were affected by a family member with a disability. However, there were no ?¢Ç¨Àúpersons with disabilities' included in the panel.
As a person with a disability I was somewhat offended by this. I wondered why the experts on ?¢Ç¨Àúpersons with disabilities' were the family members and not the persons themselves. I felt as though the silence of personal experience was emblematic of the way many church members view disability.
In many cases, church speakers tell stories about persons with disabilities to inspire, increase pathos, and catch their listeners' attention. Like the story of Mary Goble Pay and other pioneers who lost appendages to frostbite, speakers use these tales of suffering to illustrate their sermons about endurance and faith. However, I believe that these stories create a narrative about disability that is demeaning, even silencing, to people with disabilities.
As a Mormon with a disability, I have had many experiences that make me feel that other members don't view me as a whole person. They see my physical difference and make immediate judgments about my ‘heroism’ and my ‘strong testimony’. People have told me that 'just looking at me' is inspiring. As if, by seeing my limp, the story of my suffering is self-evident to others around me. I reject the idea that people can know the story of my life or of my disability by reading my body or by watching me walk.
Because of the stereotypes among Mormons about people with disabilities, I am uncomfortable with way stories of disability are typically used in church talks and lessons. In addition, I hope that future Symposium sessions will address disability, and will purposefully include individuals with disabilities as authorities on this topic.