Culture and Disability: It Is Not That Simple

THe Multiple Facilitators and Barriers to Engagement Between Typical and Disabled Persons

  • Kevin C. Shannon, MD, MPH
  • Karen C. Shannon, MD
Keywords: culture and disability, cultural elements, Lewis Model, typical disabled engagement, compassion


The effect of culture on behavior is well established. But little is described about the specific elements of culture that explain the effect. It is important for those who are personally interested in enhancing the Church’s ministry to persons with disabilities to understand common cultural beliefs and behaviors toward them found in different cultures, in order to understand and predict the inherent facilitators and barriers to ministry to the disabled in each culture. However, it is not that simple. To effectively minister to people affected by disability, one must understand more than common cultural attitudes and behaviors. Understanding the implication for compassionate action based on such frameworks as social role valorization and the evaluable victim effect, as well as individual and group history of compassionate ministry, will increase the ability to predict future engagement with people affected by disability. Also, education affects worldview, modifying primary culture-based beliefs and behaviors—especially education about and experience with people affected by disability. Finally, economy of time and finances can positively or negatively affect likelihood of engagement between typical people and those with disabilities. It is suggested that typical/disabled engagement likelihood can be assessed for both “typical” persons and people affected by disability, helping to predict individual and church readiness for and likelihood of engagement in ministry with people affected by disability; and, this will provide the basis for a structured approach to addressing specific common barriers in the domains of culture, compassion, education, and socioeconomic status.

Author Biographies

Kevin C. Shannon, MD, MPH

Kevin C. Shannon, MD, MPH, is Associate Professor at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Director of the Loma Linda Family and Preventive Medicine Residency Program.

Karen C. Shannon, MD

Karen C. Shannon, MD, is Assistant Professor at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and a busy practicing family physician and clinical teacher. They are former long-term medical missionaries to Kenya who are happily married, and they have three wonderful children, the youngest of whom is autistic.

How to Cite
Shannon, K., & Shannon, K. (2015). Culture and Disability: It Is Not That Simple. Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability, 4(1), 69-88. Retrieved from