Too often, as Lawyers who represent the disabled, we fixate on current laws and views concerning the disabled. We are constantly addressing the existing and changes in the laws with fields such as workers’ compensation, disability pension law and the American with Disabilities Act.
Protecting the Rights of the Disabled & American with Disabilities Act
Sometimes, it is important to take a look back in time to gain some perspective and understanding as to why we as a society are concerned with protecting the rights of the disabled. After stepping back from our current laws, you can discover that the rights of the disabled actually date back thousands of years. The rights of the disabled were expressed in the Bible. At that time, society expressed a view of the disabled and what their role in society. It appears that we carry those views forward to the present day.
The Jewish Holiday of Passover, which is quickly approaching, retells the story Exodus. While the story of Exodus is a story about delivering people from bondage to set them free, the story of Exodus is a powerful story as to the disabled’s role within society.
In sum, the Story of Exodus involves God freeing the Hebrew Slaves from bondage in Egypt. In order to do so, God reaches out to Moses. He requests that Moses act as his representative and deliver the Hebrews from the Pharaoh.
In their exchange concerning this task, “Moses said to the Lord, “I beseech You, O Lord. I am not a man of words, neither from yesterday nor from the day before yesterday, nor from the time You have spoken to Your servant, for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” “ Exodus 4:10. It has long been interpreted that Moses suffered from some form of a speech impediment.
In reply, “ [b]ut the Lord said to him, “Who gave man a mouth, or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” Exodus 4:11
A Biblical Perspective of Disabilities
This interchange is the most important expression of the biblical perspective of disabilities. It clearly shows that the God of the Bible viewed the disabled as part of his creation of humanity and that they play a role in society. As such, it is implied that they deserve the same respect and dignity as any other person.
The story continues. Moses, however, felt that his disability would prevent him from performing the task. God instructs Moses “So now, go! I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what you shall speak. ” But he said, “I beseech You, O Lord, send now [Your message] with whom You would send.” And the Lord’s wrath was kindled against Moses, and He said, “Is there not Aaron your brother, the Levite? I know that he will surely speak, and behold, he is coming forth toward you, and when he sees you, he will rejoice in his heart. You shall speak to him, and you shall put the words into his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will instruct you [both] what you shall do. You shall speak to him, and you shall put the words into his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will instruct you [both] what you shall do.” Exodus 4: 12-15
So, long before there was an Americans with Disabilities Act, we have an instance in the Bible in which God provides accommodation to a disabled individual so he can perform the task at hand. One could argue that God chose a person with disabilities to perform the most important task within the Bible.
The Story of Passover
In sum, the Story of Passover and Exodus illuminates the historic and biblical view of the disabled. We learn from the Bible that the disabled are viewed as God’s creation and therefore should be provided the respect and dignity of others. Further, we learn that even God values the disabled to perform significant roles in society. Further, in order to do so, the disabled should be provided assistance.