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What’s wrong with the word “disability” according to Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers

PBS | Facebook | Fair Use

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 01/31/23

The late great Fred Rogers was able to see deeper truths about our humanity and share it with the world.

Everybody loved the late Fred Rogers — author, Presbyterian minister, and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood which ran from 1968 to 2001. His kernels of wisdom still resound today.

Fred Rogers believed everybody was important, everybody mattered. He was able to point to truths that often go unnoticed, or are ignored, by others.

One of those was his insight into the problem of using the word “disabilities” to describe the people who can’t do the things many of us take for granted. But Mr. Rogers made the point that the real disabilities lie in other matters:

Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities. ~ from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Those who have worked with people with disabilities have said the same, like the late Fr. Henri Nouwen. It is fair to say that each of us has dis-abilities; it’s just that we can hide them more easily, justify them, or pretend they aren’t there.

But isn’t it true that the kind of disabilities Rogers talks about above are the things that really matter when it comes to a meaningful life? It is a poverty if we can’t feel our feelings, express them appropriately, or form close relationships. When we are overwhelmed by bitterness or resentment or we have no joy or love or hope,

The good news is, God loves us in our poverty — whatever form it takes. And He desires to make us whole and happy. So whatever our own particular “disability” is, whether it’s on display for all to see, or hidden behind a smile or busyness, we can give it to the Lord and ask for His help. We can also allow it to make us more humble, remembering that our weaknesses are part of our common humanity.

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