Beginning to Talk about Disability & Suffering


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The language that we use to talk about disability and suffering often comes from what we have heard and learned in our own social circles. We have a sense that there are both respectful and derogatory ways to talk about the experiences of disability and suffering, but sometimes we struggle to know exactly where the line is and what certain terms mean in specific contexts. This discussion will give you an opportunity to learn some new vocabulary and help you see how to use your language with respect and precision.

First, we need to make it clear that while this course treats the topics of both disability and suffering, these terms are not synonymous. Yes, some disability involves suffering (e.g., paraplegia often involves ongoing pain and discomfort from the condition itself). However, other disabilities, for example blindness, are not experienced as also causing pain or suffering. Likewise, there is suffering, both physical and emotional, that is not associated with a disability but with other categories of injury or illness.

Second, we are all learning how to talk about these very personal issues. We want to use our language clearly and respectfully. Sometimes this is easy. Other times, old habits or new and unfamiliar territory make it hard to do this. Please be patient and gracious with yourself and with others. Feel free to say when you don’t know how to say what you want to say. If you are offended by certain terms or language you may communicate that, but do so assuming good intentions on the part of other persons involved. Be considerate both in the words that you choose and in how you allow others to explore and learn.

Third and finally, this is a course that delves into some of the deepest experiences of human life and spirituality. We all bring our own experiences and perspectives to bear on that. Please hear and honor what others have to say. We will also be bringing the perspective of the Christian Bible to bear on those very personal experiences. You do not have to agree with all that the Bible says or what Christians believe, but we ask you to give it an honest hearing as a way of life that brings many people purpose and meaning as they face disability and suffering.

Upon successful completion of this discussion, you will be able to:

  • Apply relevant terminology to discuss disability and/or suffering.



  • Textbook: Holding Hands with Pascal
    • This is an eBook available through OCLS. d in the first two chapters of the textbook.
    • Read the op-ed How to Talk about Pain. As you do so, consider how you would describe living with a painful disability in light of the article.
    • Make an initial post by day 4 that consists of the topics listed below. You are welcome to either write a post of 200-300 words or create a Video Note of 4-6 minutes. If you need instructions on how to create and post a Video Note, please follow this link.
      1. Describe your response to the chapters in Holding Hands with Pascaland relate this reading to one experience where you have encountered people (perhaps yourself) dealing with disability and/or suffering. In the course of your response and description, you should employ your chosen vocabulary term from the Glossary, the additional term that you discovered from the Glossary, and a point from the article on How to Talk About Pain.
      2. Close your post by commenting on your reaction to this exercise about exploring the terminology around disability and suffering. What feelings or reactions has this initial topic raised within you?
    • Overall, your posts should:
      1. Stay focused on the topics set forth in the discussion prompt.
      2. Use good grammar and clear writing, citing sources whenever necessary.


      Your initial post clearly and skillfully employs two terms from the Glossary and one aspect of the article on pain to describe empathetically experiences of disability and/or suffering in the book and in your experience. You unpack an insightful connection between the vocabulary term and the reading, and you relate your own experience with deep reflection.



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