Struggling to Stand Up for Others

I don’t always remember to stand up for others, even though I myself have a disability.

I was standing in line at the local hardware store. The mom in front of me had her pre-teen boy in tow, and it seemed pretty obvious to me that he was somewhere on the autism spectrum. He was not very communicative, nor was he behaving in a socially appropriate manner.

But he also wasn’t being rude or bothering anyone either, he was being a young man who had autism – that’s all. I watched and kind of smiled as the woman tried to work with her son and pay for her wares at the same time.

When she finished her purchase, she and the young man walked out the door, and I smiled after them, always happy to see parents who aren’t afraid to take their children with disabilities and integrate them into community life.

“That just annoys me,” the lady behind the counter said.

I didn’t acknowledge her comment, but she continued anyway. “People with kids like that should just leave them at home.”

In that moment, I knew it was wrong to let her comments pass without saying anything. I knew I was being a complete hypocrite.

But my worry –my insecurities and fear – they paralyzed me. I did not know what to say in response, and even if I had, my first inclination was actually to sympathize, to conform to the pattern of this woman”s life, and to actually agree with her comments.

Instead, I said nothing. I knew it was wrong; I knew that had been my chance to stand up and do something. But I failed. I could have advanced the cause of people with disabilities, but it was easier not to do that. A friend assured me today that perhaps my saying nothing (instead of actually agreeing), was in itself a statement of dissension. Perhaps the sales clerk somehow got the drift that I did not share her assessment.

I kind of doubt it, though. I know I should have done more – actually said something. At the very least, I could have made a much more effective response than I did. For example, one of my other friends mentioned, I could have said “Thirty years ago, that was me. I’m glad my parents didn’t keep me at home.”

I could have asked her to explain herself. I could have told her I worked at Elim, where we have the exact opposite view of people with disabilities. I could have done any number of things, but I did nothing.

I paid for my stuff, walked out to my car, and sat down. I knew I should have said something, but now I couldn’t, not anymore. The moment had passed and would from that point on be marked with regret.

I share this not to get it off my chest, but because few things bother me more than pretense. Even for someone who is always exposed to disability, and is often reminded of his own disability, it is not easy to equip others. It is not easy to always be an advocate, to keep advancing the cause of disabilities. Despite being committed to this cause, I could not even speak up in one small situation where I could have prompted someone’s heart-change toward people with disabilities.

But a moment like that can also serve to harden resolve, that constant sense of regret is also a reminder. God is restoring this world, and He has called us to advance the cause of people with disabilities as part of that restoration. We are called to do this not just by serving people with disabilities, but by also equipping them to serve – to fully participate in God’s restoration of the kingdom.

Have you ever had the opportunity to speak up, to stand up on behalf of people with disabilities? How did you succeed in doing so, or how did you fall short? Share your stories in the comments below.