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Communiqué from the Forum of People with Disabilities1

Weaving the Web of Interdependence of People with Disabilities
for Eco-justice and Peace in the Age of Information Technology

We, participants of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) Pre-Assembly Workshop on People with Disabilities (PWDs), representing various denominations and organizations from different countries, gathered at Crystal Spring House, Chiang Mai, Thailand from 26-30 March 2005 to deliberate on issues affecting PWDs in church and society under the theme “Weaving the Web of Interdependence of People with Disabilities for Eco-justice and Peace in the Age of Information Technology”. We are aware of the deliberations of the previous conference, organized jointly by CCA and the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) in Bangkok in 2003 for this same purpose. Cognizant of the paradigm shift from independence versus dependence to interdependence and having taken time to discuss this paradigm shift and its significance to relationship, especially inclusion, participation and active involvement of PWDs in all spiritual, social, economic and structural life of the church and society, we have identified six areas of concern that the church needs to address. Further, having explored in our biblical reflections, we have come to the conclusion that the Bible is the foundation of all the work that we need to do in the area of disability.

We believe that our life as people with disabilities is sustained by a strong faith in God who is love. The ‘image of God’ in which we have been created implies that all human beings, irrespective of their diversity, share a common humanity. Therefore, any form of discrimination amounts to distortion of God’s image in us, and hence deemed sin. For us, the love of God has been most concretely manifested in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our liberator, in whom we also find our proto-type. Jesus provided a paradigm shift vis-a-vis issues around disability. The Nazareth Manifesto (Lk.4:18-19) with which he commenced his ministry, is for us, a revolutionary statement of integral liberation with clear reference to and ramifications for people with disabilities. Healing the sick and the disabled was, for Jesus, a fundamental aspect of establishing God’s reign of justice on earth. In the process, Jesus challenged the unjust social, economic, cultural and religious barriers that stood in the way of approximating this just world order. Jesus’ way of healing the sick was holistic and organic. It had an earthly touch about it. For example, when he healed the blind man (John 9) he did it by using mud and saliva, thus recreating the blind man as an earthling. This means that our relationship with nature is important for our well being, both literally and symbolically. When indigenous peoples are displaced from their homeland (earth) they actually get ‘disabled’. Healing, here, would require us to join the struggles for land rights and eco-justice. Jesus also challenges the traditional sin-sickness correlation when he makes it clear that the cause of blindness was not the sin of the blind man or his parents. Blindness and other forms of disability are also caused by structural sins, sinful activities carried out by structures of injustice. Differently put, Jesus never blamed the victims; rather, he confronted the systems that caused pain and sickness to others. The response of Peter and John to the plea of the lame person in Acts 3 is an example of a healing sign that challenged the logic of charity and materialism (gold and silver). The gospel challenge is to embrace the God of justice, not mammon, the god of globalization. The Cornelius story in Acts 10 once again establishes the gospel truth that every one is equal and dignified. The reign of God that Jesus inaugurated is one where every one enjoys dignity and equality.

Following our extensive discussions, we wish to recommend the following from the six sub-themes which were the focus of our discussions.

1. Strengthening Ecological and Economic Sustainability

1.1 Destruction of the natural environment causing disease and natural disasters making people disabled

We recommend that campaigns be intensified for the protection of the environment by:
• Avoiding the use of chemicals that are now known to cause disabilities;
• Conserving and protecting the environment to avoid natural disasters that are known to cause disabilities;
• Assisting organizations of the disabled to link up with other environmental groups that support similar causes;
• Promoting environmental conservation projects such as tree planting, mangrove planting, etc.;
• Encouraging eco-friendly farming that generates income and provides eco-therapy for the general society;
• Strengthening campaigns against illegal nuclear testing by industrialized nations to the south;
• Strengthening campaigns against illegal dumping of hazardous nuclear and chemical waste by industrialized nations to the south.

1.2 Built environment is not barrier-free

We recommend removal of all forms of barriers in the built-up environment by:
• Influencing local authorities and personnel such as architects, town planners, policy makers, etc. to consider access for PWDs in their designs;
• Encouraging local authorities to consult with PWDs on development projects;
• Encouraging the enforcement of existing laws and regulations on the built environment.

1.3 Indiscriminate waste disposal resulting in environmental damage

We recommend reduction of harmful waste through the practice of reducing, reusing and recycling by:
• Reducing, reusing and recycling of waste in society especially in churches;
• Promoting recycling programs in which PWDs could take part.

1.4 Inequitable distribution of resources e.g. general land distribution, business opportunities for marginalized groups

We recommend equitable distribution of available natural resources by:
• Giving due consideration to PWDs in the distribution of resources;
• Including PWDs in the sustainable development agenda;
• Including PWDs in poverty reduction strategies.

2. Reconstructing Social Justice

Disability is often looked upon as a charity issue and not a justice issue. It is the right of PWDs to be included in the society, particularly in the areas of education and employment. We recommend that:

• Awareness campaigns on disability issues be organized in the church;
• PWDs be involved in consultative and participatory processes on discussions for the rights of PWDs;
• Programs, courses and curriculum on human rights to include the rights of PWDs;
• CCA and NCCs urge their governments to support the development of the UN Convention on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights and Dignity of PWDs and the Biwako Millenium Framework;
• CCA and NCCs support organizations of PWDs to participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and legislation that affect them;
• CCA and NCCs support the education of PWDs to enable them to survive in a competitive world;
• Advocate for the intensification of primary health care as a means of curbing incidences of disabilities.

3. Enhancing People’s Security and Peace

In the area of enhancing people’s security and peace, we recommend that:

• PWDs be included in discussions on peace and security;
• Awareness raising on violence and abuse of PWDs be organized in the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) work;
• Campaigns against discrimination of PWDs in matters pertaining to migration, especially in conflict situations be organized.

4. Building Gender Justice

In the area of building gender justice to promote inclusive societies, we recommend that:

• Women with disabilities be included in all fora that address women’s issues in general;
• Women with disabilities be included in ecumenical structures;
• Deliberate efforts to promote inclusive education for Women With Disabilities;
• Opportunities for Women with Disabilities be expanded to serve in the church at all levels including as parish ministers.

5. Celebrating Diversity

Realizing the need that diversity is to be celebrated we recommend that:

• Intensive advocacy be made for the recognition of gifts and abilities of PWDs to enhance the life of the church;
• Churches be made fully accessible to PWDs to ensure full participation in worship and other church activities;
• CCA and NCCs establish coordination programs for disability issues;
• Encourage the development of assistive devices and local products using technologies and materials that are appropriate to the local conditions.

6. Increasing Accessibility to
Information Communication Technology (ICT)

Realizing the need for assistive technology and accessibility of ICT on accounts of costs we recommend that:
• Advocacy be carried out for lowering and subsidizing the costs;
• Efforts be made to bridge the Digital Divide by encouraging the establishment of learning centers that are accessible to PWDs;
• Designers and developers be encouraged to adopt Universal Design that caters for everyone with special reference to PWDs;
• PWDs be encouraged and provided opportunities to train as designers and developers of ICT.

In conclusion, appreciating the initiative of CCA to organize the PWDs Pre-Assembly, we would like to call on them to find ways to ensure continuity of disability work in CCA beyond the Assembly and to extend it to the NCCs, other ecumenical organizations and the member churches in the region. In order to do so, we propose the establishment of a taskforce with adequate representation of PWDs; responsible to CCA and working with the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) of the WCC. This taskforce should be mandated with the responsibility of establishing a network and process to keep the disability agenda alive in the life of the church, sharing experiences and to engage in theological reflection.

We further urge the General Assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia to support the implementation of the recommendations in this Communiqué.


1 This statement was issued by the Pre-Assembly Workshop on People with Disabilities (PWDs) at Crystal Spring House, Chiang Mai, Thailand on 26-30 March 2005.


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