July is Disability Pride Month, and one Southern California author says churches are no exception when it comes to the stigma and discrimination against disabled people.
Dr. Amy Kenny is currently a Shakespeare lecturer at UC Riverside.
"I think what I really teach is compassion and invite students to see themselves in these old plays," said Dr. Kenny, who is now sharing parts of her story in "My Body is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church."
Her book challenges ableism in church settings. The illustration on the cover features a wheelchair covered in vibrant flowers.
"To showcase how joyful disability can be," said Kenny, who is from Australia and has lived in many different places, including Southern California.
Her experience in church settings has repeatedly included encounters like this one:
"People will just assume that by virtue of my mobility aids, I want prayer to be fixed or cured. And people will come up to me and pray for me even if I say 'I'm good, thanks,' " said Kenny.
Her book examines the stories in scripture that celebrate disabilities as a blessing. She also challenges people to think about bodies the way we think about the different forms and attributes of nature, like trees and flowers.
"My journey to accepting my disabled body and actually having disability pride was looking at the larger community of creation. It was looking at the twisted branches of elm trees and oak trees," she said. "It was witnessing the fringe and the different variety of beautiful tulips."
"We can actually use that as a way of making sure to marvel at all of our disabled neighbors," said Kenny.
Dr. Kenney points out that when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 32 years ago, many churches fought against it. That reality remains.
"So many churches that I've been a part of have told me that it's too expensive to put in a ramp or they don't have a bathroom that I can use because I'm the only one who would need it," she said.
She explains churches can do to the work of repair and repentance by acknowledging the harm and attempting to repair it.
"By listening to disabled people. Doing an accessibility audit and actually making changes to make sure that their church spaces are fully accessible," she said.
Dr. Kenny reminds people that disabilities don't have to look a certain way.
"We are a vibrant community of so many different apparent and non-apparent disabilities. There's an assumption that disability means wheelchair. And while I myself use a mobility scooter and a wheelchair often, that is not the only way to be disabled."
Her mobility scooter is named "Diana" after Wonder Woman, while her cane is named "Eileen" - because she likes a good pun.
"I think those are just playful ways for people to get to know me and about my disability that don't seem too invasive and really, they're not asking me to relive my medical trauma, but instead they allow people into the way that I experience the world."
Her book is filled with that playful sense of humor and a loving invitation to listen and learn.
"I would love for the book to invite people to think about broadening their understanding of disability and what it means to be disabled."