Modifications. They are a necessary and natural part of life for families who want their loved ones with special needs to have access to the world. One of my earliest memories is watching carpenters build a ramp so Dad could wheel in and out of our house. Mom modified an old leather toiletry bag to carry Dad’s urinal when we were out and about since few bathrooms were wheelchair accessible in the 1960s. (Note: Do not try this at home. Leather absorbs urine odor, and it never goes away.)
Modifications at Our House
My husband and I continued the practice after we became parents. Before our baby was released from NICU, Hiram modified the crib, elevating the head to reduce reflux in our tiny boy’s esophagus. On vacations, we wedged suitcases between motel mattress and box springs for the same purpose. For years I carried a hand crank baby food grinder–strong enough to grind hamburgers and pizza–in my purse when we ate out. And because our little boy’s misshaped esophagus caused him to throw up about half of what he ate, we also left really big tips for the wait staff…to make up for the napkins full of spit up food we left behind.
You know what I’m talking about because as a special needs parent, you are constantly modifying the world around your children, too. To us, it’s natural and necessary. But convincing others to join us in making the world accessible to all isn’t an easy task, a fact proven by recent history.
Modifications at School
In fact, convincing schools to modify education for children with special needs required an act of Congress. In 1975, federal lawmakers enacted Public Law 94-142. The law said that children with disabilities “have a right to education” and established “a process by which state and local educational agencies may beheld accountable for providing educational services for all handicapped children.”
As a college freshman–and an education major–the year that law passed, I had a front row seat as our college scrambled to create classes to educate a new crop of special education teachers and schools scrambled to comply with the mandate. The law wasn’t perfect, and schools didn’t implemented the law perfectly. But schools slowly modified physical buildings, teaching strategies, and levels of education to meet the needs of all students. Today, such modifications are accepted practice and expected practice.
Modifications at Work
Public Law 94-142 granted kids with special needs access to education, but much of the world remained off limits when they became adults. Federal law stepped in again in 1990 with the American with Disabilities Act. Among other things, this law requires employers to make modifications for “A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question.”
Modifications in Sports
But even that law wasn’t enough to grant people with special needs access to the whole world, as a recent statement by the US Education Department Office for Civil Rights recognized. This past January, the office “released guidance that clarifies existing legal obligations of schools to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate alongside their peers in after-school athletics and clubs.” For more detailed discussion of the topic, go to We Must Provide Equal Opportunity in Sports to Students with Disabilities or listen to the radio broadcast Opening School Sports To Kids With Disabilities.
The education department’s action lacks the clout of federal law, but it’s a beginning. It’s a starting place where, depending on a child’s disability and the activity in question, modifications may open the wide world of sports to more kids with special needs.
Modifications at Church
Now that better access to schools, workplaces, and sports exists, we can rest easy, right?
Because more often than not, our churches aren’t accessible to children and adults with special needs. Even though Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 19, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,” had no qualifications, many churches welcome only those who can climb the stairs, sit quietly, follow directions, and display socially appropriate behaviors.
Because our government believes in separation of church and state (a very good thing) lawmakers can’t pass laws to require churches to make modifications for our kids. Care giving demands and medical emergencies often prevent parents and family members from advocating for special needs programs in our own churches. Even so we have power far greater than federal law to persuade the body of Christ to obey Jesus’ command. We have the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and in all God’s people to right this wrong.
Through the Spirit’s power,
We can pray God’s word back to Him, asking Him to accomplish Jesus’ command in the lives of our children.
We can ask God to open the eyes of His people to the needs of all children.
We can ask God to lead us to a church family where our children are welcome.
We can ask God to humble our hearts so we will admit we need help.
We can expect God to make a way when there is no way.
Of all the modifications we can implement for our children, modifying our hearts for the purpose of prayer is the most important one we will ever make.
Because in Spirit-led prayer, we have access to the Father through His Son. The Son who modified his existence to grant us hope for this world and the next.
Lord God, grant our precious children the opportunity to learn about you and worship you as part of a welcoming church family. Because your Son commands us to bring all children to him, I trust you to make an eternal way for every child with special needs when there seems to be no way. Amen.
photo credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net