Don't Become Blind to the Blind
I can’t tell you how many times I have attended an unfamiliar parish or a seminar or devotion when I enter (or attempt to enter) the building and tap around looking for stairs, doors, meeting rooms and so on.
Since I became Catholic 20 years ago, I have gone to many different places throughout the United States, traveling alone with my white cane. It has been interesting (and frustrating) to discover how so many Catholics and Catholic organizations are blind to the blind. I can’t tell you how many times I have attended an unfamiliar parish or a seminar or devotion when I enter (or attempt to enter) the building and tap around looking for stairs, doors, meeting rooms and so on. There are people all around me but none of them comes up to offer any sort of help.
Even when I step out into the aisle to go up for Holy Communion there is often nobody that will come up and assist me. At times I ask for the help, but I usually wait to see if someone will volunteer without being asked. Sadly, more often than not, I have to ask, and the unfortunate soul whom I ask is often uncomfortable and unenthusiastic about offering assistance. Interestingly, there seems to be some sort of correlation between wealth and kindness. I could write an unofficial axiom: the wealthier the parish the less the voluntary help offered.
At the other end of the spectrum, when I travel in poorer areas or go to a place where many of the people are poor (and usually Protestant), I have people coming to me to offer help and assistance, often even taking the good soul out of his or her way. Having worked in a Franciscan ministry for the poor and the homeless I have learned how deep the faith of the poor can be and they are not afraid of losing anything for their help because they have little or nothing. There are different kinds of blindness, and some kinds can even be dangerous to our souls.
As an experiment, try calling the main number of your diocesan offices. When the receptionist answers simply say, “I am blind and new to this diocese. Can you tell me who I can talk to about what services, assistance and materials you have for the blind?” I am guessing that the receptionist will be confused and uncertain and try to pass you off to somebody (anybody) else just to end the contact. If I am wrong and Chicago is an exception, that would be great news.
And the struggles aren’t exclusive to the blind. Catholics with other disabilities have their own obstacles to overcome in the Church. Here in Chicago we have a parish, St. Stanislaus Kostka, that was designated as the “Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy” for the Archdiocese of Chicago. With the recent Jubilee Year of Mercy such a “Sanctuary of Mercy” would seem to have been an obvious place of focus. But St. Stanislaus Kostka is not handicapped accessible! I used to be a member of that parish and I strove for year after year to have a ramp installed. I was always told that it was part of the plan for the parish, but whenever extra money came in, it always went to other purposes. I was reassured that staff was always available to help those in walkers or wheelchairs to enter, but I have been there when this was not the case.
The Archdiocese even held a conference on discrimination at this church where the disabled were being systematically discriminated against. It seems that discrimination and exclusion are hard to accept, but easy to become blind to.
What do sighted people really see?
There is an organization in New York City called the Xavier Society for the Blind that provides a wealth of resources for blind Catholics. Visit them at XavierSocietyForTheBlind.org.