The Church needs to do more to embrace disability and mental health, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tells the BBC, drawing on the experience of two of his daughters.
He reveals that Katharine’s mental health difficulties and Ellie’s learning disabilities had “really brought it to the front of [his] mind”.
This is the first time Ellie has spoken publicly about her dyspraxia, which impacts co-ordination, but can be confused with clumsiness.
Her disability, not being an obvious physical impairment, is often referred to as invisible. Because of this, she feels her needs are often misunderstood or overlooked.
She told BBC Ouch: “I have struggled a lot. People have looked at me and basically – I know the look now – it’s literally like, ‘You’re not disabled, why are you sitting there?’ Or, ‘Why can’t you do this?’.
“I’ve been discriminated against quite a few times because they don’t understand it.”
Katherine, his oldest daughter, also shares her experiences of depression, and says that the most hurtful thing she has experienced was somebody praying for her “addiction to negative thinking.”
She told Ouch: “I’m not addicted to negative thinking; I’m depressed and anxious medically. It’s a chemical thing going on with me, it’s not an addiction.”
The Archbishop told BBC ouch he does not pray for Ellie’s disability. “I haven’t prayed for Ellie,” he says. He sees Katharine’s mental illness as something she’s not always had, but Ellie has always had the disability and it is part of her.
“I haven’t talked to Ellie about this [but] we had this discussion once around the [family] table when Ellie wasn’t there, because someone had asked me the question.”
He asked the family what they thought about praying for Ellie.
Turning to Ellie, he says: “Your younger sister said, ‘If God changed Ellie she wouldn’t be Ellie, and we love Ellie’. So there’s that thing that Ellie’s Ellie, she’s precious.”
The Archbishop discussed his project to make churches nationwide more accessible. At present protecting the listed status of a church takes priority over making it accessible to those with disabilities, preventing the installation of ramps and other mobility aids.
Listen to the podcast here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/disability-44688094