Welcome to The Shining Lamp
Accessibility for people with disabilities should not be treated as charity given at one’s convenience and out of generosity. Rather instead, it should be treated as service to humanity and viewed in the light of Justice! It should not be an afterthought, but should always be planned for, and integrated into all communications and community activities and life events.
This space is about community.
It is about the kind of community that you want to be a part of. A community where you feel like you belong and you have value. A vibrant active community full of opportunities and lots of ways to participate and be involved. A community that is inclusive of your children and your older parents as well. One that strives to be accessible in all settings. A community full of a variety of interesting people of different backgrounds who all bring something of what they have to offer to help make things better for everyone. Imagine a rich blend of racial backgrounds and cultures with different kinds of foods and activities to learn about and participate in.
This space is about exploring and learning about ways to remove the barriers that prevent us from building a community of exactly this kind. No matter who you are; No matter what your background, your race, disability, gender, age, or culture... You probably want to be a part of a community like this.
Barriers Do Exist for Many People.
The truth is, because of barriers related to race, disability, gender, age, and culture, some people have had a much more difficult time than others being a part of their community. Sadly, this leaves us with an unbalanced community. One which is not at all like what is described above.
So what can we do about them?
How can we learn about and remove the barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community?
Let's find out together!
The Universal House of Justice has written Letters which offer Guidance on learning to transcend traditional barriers that divide people in the wider society.
In one letter addressing Race, they tell us: Racism is a profound deviation from the standard of true morality. It deprives a portion of humanity of the opportunity to cultivate and express the full range of their capability and to live a meaningful and flourishing life, while blighting the progress of the rest of humankind. It cannot be rooted out by contest and conflict. It must be supplanted by the establishment of just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions of society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as “other”. The change required is not merely social and economic, but above all moral and spiritual. Within the context of the framework governing your activities, it is necessary to carefully examine the forces unfolding around you to determine where your energies might reinforce the most promising initiatives, what you should avoid, and how you might lend a distinctive contribution. It is not possible for you to effect the transformation envisioned by Bahá’u’lláh merely by adopting the perspectives, practices, concepts, criticisms, and language of contemporary society. Your approach, instead, will be distinguished by maintaining a humble posture of learning, weighing alternatives in the light of His teachings, consulting to harmonize differing views and shape collective action, and marching forward with unbreakable unity in serried lines.
In another letter, The Universal House of Justice tells us: One example is the way in which all minorities, including those from a religious minority background, are encouraged in their participation. “If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated”, Shoghi Effendi has for instance stated when discussing the corrosive effects of prejudice, “it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favour of the minority, be it racial or otherwise.”
In yet another letter, The Universal House of Justice tells us: As the intensity of community-building work in a cluster increases, the friends there inevitably become more conscious of social, economic, or cultural barriers that are impeding people’s spiritual and material progress. Children and junior youth lacking support in their education, pressures on girls resulting from traditional customs related to early marriage, families needing help with navigating unfamiliar systems of healthcare, a village struggling for want of some basic necessity, or long-standing prejudices arising from a legacy of hostility between different groups...
In reflecting on such situations it becomes evident that, within clusters, expansion and consolidation, social action, and contributing to prevalent discourses are dimensions of a single, unified, outward-looking endeavour carried out at the grassroots of society. All these efforts are pursued according to a common framework for action, and this above all else brings coherence to the overall pattern of activity.
The Baha'i Faith and People with Disabilities:
For as long as there have been people on this planet, some of them have have been People with Disabilities. Any event that is open to the public will likely include People with Disabilities, some visible and some will not necessarily be apparent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 Adults in the United States have some type of Disability.
Regarding people with disabilities, there are a number of quotes from the Baha'i Writings. In addition, the Baha'i International Community has been involved at the forefront of international efforts on human and civil rights. On August 6, 1988, in Geneva, giving statements on human rights and disability, the Baha'i International Community made the following points:
- The prejudice and discrimination that disabled people suffer is the product of the more general human tendency to label as "inferior" those who are somehow different. But the ostracism that disabled persons often experience can be even more intense, for it is founded on fear -- fear on the part of the ostracizer that he, too, may someday become the victim of disability. The only way to eradicate this fear is to educate every member of society to see disability for what it really is -- a mental or physical condition that may make everyday life more challenging, but that cannot affect the disabled person's soul, spirit, creativity, imagination or determination -- in short, some of the most valuable aspects of life. At the same time, such an appreciation will enable individuals to see through the outward handicaps of disabled persons, to their inner reality.
- The reformation of social stereotypes and prejudices against the disabled requires education aimed at helping individuals to see the disabled as real people and to share in their triumphs. As Baha'is, we are working to implement this kind of education in our schools and in Baha'i homes. We are pleased to learn from the Special Rapporteur's report that a number of governments have reported that they are pursuing educational programmes with this goal directed towards young persons, teachers and the society as a whole.
- Ensuring equal rights for the disabled. Like many other groups, the disabled have been stigmatized and victimized by prejudice, preventing them from assuming their rightful places in society. As pointed out by the Special Rapporteur, the elimination of traditional stereotypes and prejudices against the disabled is a sine qua non for their full enjoyment of fundamental human rights. We agree wholeheartedly with the Special Rapporteur that all sectors of society must work to integrate disabled persons into the life of society and give them equal opportunities in schools, the workplace and the community at large. Society will be the loser if it fails to benefit from the talents of disabled persons. Their resolute determination to overcome problems that most of us will never be forced to deal with should be a shining torch for us all. We would only suggest that the Special Rapporteur emphasize the ideal of rehabilitation in the family as well as in the community. Family members should be trained, where possible, to help provide the support and encouragement that the disabled person requires to surmount his impairment. Moreover, we would add the right to freedom of religion to the list of those rights especially important for the disabled person. Disabled persons must be free to partake of the inspiration that religious beliefs can provide. We have described in more detail our views on these topics, and on the broad economic, social and cultural rights to which disabled persons are entitled, in our written statement to the current session of the Sub-Commission.
- We welcome discussions on the possibility of drafting a convention on disabled persons' rights. Every effort to specify more clearly disabled persons' rights and entrench these rights in the legal order deserves to be commended.
- Disabled persons will no longer have to cope with their handicaps in isolation, hidden behind a veil of intentional ignorance on the part of the society around them. We applaud efforts worldwide to help them surmount their disabilities and become fully-functioning members of their communities. Indeed, we all have much to learn from the disabled persons. Theirs is often an example worthy of emulation.
Two years later, On July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. As he lifted his pen, he declared: “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”
Today, decades later, Baha'is around the world in our various communities are working together to strive to remove barriers that prevent us from building Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Communities! Join us in our efforts!