Twenty five years ago, on July 26, 1989, the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law for people with disabilities, was signed by President George Bush, (and amended with changes in January, 2009). It defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.”
In 2011, the World Health Organization along with the World Bank Group published the World Report on Disability. It reveals that 15% of the world’s population (one billion men, women and children) live with a disability. Eighty percent live in developing countries, and 20% live in the U.S. (57+ million). This figure is increasing through population growth, medical advantages, and the aging process.
Also in the World Report: “Across the world, people with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is partly because people with disabilities experience barriers in accessing services that many of us have long taken for granted, including health, education, employment, and transport as well as information.”
At the SDA General Conference World Session held in Utrecht, The Netherlands in 1995, the world church voted to establish programs to support and witness to people with disabilities through all levels of the organization: administrative offices, unions, conferences, and the local church.
The Southern Union Conference has been involved with Disabilities Ministries since 1991, first beginning with a program at the Florida Hospital sponsored by the FL Conference Women’s Ministry and then launched at the Port Charlotte SDA Church, Port Charlotte, FL. The ministry continues today to support, encourage, empower, and gather resources for people with disabilities for worship, study, leadership and evangelism.