Wheaton College Announces New Faith and Disability Initiative

March 8, 2019

With its new Faith and Disability Initiative, Wheaton College will strive to give churches and schools guidance on integrating people with disabilities into the community. 

380x253 BoehmThis month, Wheaton College will officially launch its Faith and Disability Initiative, a project spearheaded by the Ann Haskins Special Education Program. The program is a collection of courses that prepare education majors to serve students with special education needs.

With schools and churches on the front lines of serving the needs of those with a wide variety of disabilities, Wheaton College is launching an initiative which aims to help those institutions reframe their approach to disability for the glory of God. The initiative’s first endeavors include holding a symposium, forming a new advisory council, and hosting a public-facing lecture.

“Wheaton is positioned and equipped to provide national and international leadership in addressing disabilities through a biblical lens in a way that equips schools and the church—and engages the world for kingdom-building purposes,” said Dr. Thomas Boehm, the Ann Haskins Assistant Professor of Special Education.

The invitation-only symposium, held March 27-29, will convene an international group of more than 20 thought-leaders and practitioner-leaders who work at the intersection of faith and disability. The academic papers produced at the symposium will contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Disability & Religion, for which Boehm will serve as guest editor.

In addition, the newly formed Faith and Disability Advisory Council will have its first meeting. The council includes Wheaton alumni and parents of individuals whose children have disabilities.

For people in the Chicago area who want to start thinking about these issues, Boehm suggests coming to the Faith and Disability Initiative’s kick-off event, the “Engaging Autism—Honoring God” lecture, held on March 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the Billy Graham Center’s Barrows Auditorium.

Dr. Grant Macaskill will headline the event, drawing on his experience as the Kirby Laing Chair of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and his work as the director of the Centre for the Study of Autism and Christian Community. His lecture will offer ways Christians can engage with autism with an eye toward honoring God.

In addition to the lecture, Judson University student Daniel Bovell, an individual with autism, will perform several piano pieces, and the foyer of Barrows Hall will be adorned with art by local students of the Clare Woods Academy, which assists youth and adults who have learning or developmental disabilities.

Boehm hopes that attendees walk away edified, refreshed, and challenged, “so the next time they see someone with autism or hear anything about autism, they can bring a more rigorous framework to their thinking that provokes love and good deeds,” Boehm said. “I hope that they would start to honor the image of God in everyone and bring a kingdom-oriented witness for the glory of God and for the good of, not only those individuals and families impacted by autism, but also for the wider community because communities are enriched by the presence of all of their members.”

This lecture is co-sponsored and endorsed by the Office of Intercultural Engagement, the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, the Center for Applied Christian Ethics, and the School of Biblical and Theological Studies.--Emily Bratcher