The Promise of Technology: Connecting with each other

Celebrating International Day of People with Disability, this article was first published in December edition of Aurora, a Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle publication 

By Trish Mowbray, ACBC Disability Projects Officer

Trish Mowbray, ACBC Disability Projects Officer

Trish Mowbray, ACBC Disability Projects Officer

Over the last couple of years, I have had the pleasure of meeting people with disability and their families through various forms of information and communications technology.

Sheira May, who lives in a developing country, contacted me via my work Facebook page when her son with Down syndrome was diagnosed with heart problems.

Fr Simon, from Pakistan, contacted me in the same way. Fr Simon runs a school for children and young adults with disability. Both Sheira and Fr Simon were reaching out for relationship and support.

Sheira needed medical and financial support and Fr Simon desperately needed exercise books and writing implements, as well as some tennis balls or skipping ropes. We share experiences, advice and hours of prayer in support for each other. I guess it might be considered a ‘virtual’ authentic friendship!

This year’s theme for the International Day of People with Disability is Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology. We all know the impact technology has on our daily lives. In many ways we are more connected than ever; we can pray online, reach out to people across vast distances and even meet face to face via Skype.

Technology can play a huge role in raising living standards by providing connections to other people and offering opportunities for education and training. However, not everyone can access information and communications technology. Cost, and limited access to these new technologies, often disadvantage people with disability and their families, especially people living in developing countries.

As Church, we could look at a number of strategies to tackle the cost and lack of access to technology for people with disability and their families, here and in developing countries. As Church, we may need to look at how we can provide access to information and communications technology to our rural and remote parish communities. How can we share, assist and support developing countries to access information and communications technology?

In the local scene, most parishes are using projectors for the celebration of the Eucharist and parish events. Using projectors for any celebration provides access for people with disability on many levels. It provides a pathway for participation for the Deaf and hard of hearing when an Auslan interpreter is not available. It provides people with Autism a visual schedule of the Mass which, for people like my son, Luke, is very calming.

Other parishes are now providing the homily in either dot points or the full version on the screen or on their websites. Some parishes are also providing a dozen or so copies of their weekend bulletins in large print, which increases participation for people with low vision. Others are using Facebook as a platform to provide information and discussion forums.

Some parishes have made their websites accessible according to access guidelines. A couple of diocesan websites provide Auslan videos of the Bishop’s messages for Lent and Advent. These are great initiatives and yet some of the beautiful videos and programs produced providing faith formation and reflective experiences for use in our parishes are not captioned. This immediately decreases the experience and access for people living with disability.

Using technology can increase the full participation of people with disability and their families in the life of the Church in Australia, yet many people with disability are still reporting poor access to their local parish and diocesan events. While technology is important, we must not forget the great value of real and meaningful friendships with people with disability and their families.

Celebrating Ability

Celebrating Ability

One of the main concerns from people with disability is the lack of support to encourage and build real and authentic friendships. What does that mean? It means that many people with disability and their families hope for long lasting friendships with people in their local parish – they hope to belong to the parish community, to be a valued presence in their faith community.

Many people with disability told me that while they appreciated the effort to include them in parish activities, they wanted to be seen as ‘real’ people more than a ‘project’ or ‘object of charity’ and, they reported, ‘After all, we are people too!’ Many people with disability told me that they want to participate and said, “Please, just ask me what I would like to do or invite me to Mass or parish events. I can help you work out how we are going to do it!”

In his annual letter to parishes as the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Bishops’ Delegate for Disability Terry Brady encourages parishes to promote real and lasting friendships as a theme and focus for this year’s celebrations for International Day of People with Disability. He said, “Friendship with people with disability, which is open and apostolic, leads to the harmony of mutual giving and receiving in times of both joy and sorrow.”

Finally, something you may like, from a young friend of mine.

“You know what my favourite saying of Jesus is? I love the part in John where Jesus says, ‘I call you friends’. Being a friend is so important to me. I love being a friend and I love having a friend and we can all call Jesus our friend – that’s what we all have in common – friendship with Jesus!”

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