Academic Exchange Quarterly Summer 2002: Volume 6, Issue 2

Teaching Mindfully
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Disability, Education and Empowerment: From Silence to Finding a Voice 

Students with physical, learning, or emotional disabilities often face extra 
challenges in completing university coursework, including integration with peers, 
obtaining and receiving accommodations, educating faculty about their disabilities, 
and receiving proper diagnosis and treatment.  Both students and faculty with such 
disabilities struggle continually with the additional stresses of uncertainty about 
how their disability will affect their performance and whether or how much to 
disclose about a disability that is not physically obvious.

Moses, a central figure in the scriptures of the Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim 
spiritual traditions, provides an excellent example of this struggle.  In the Koran, 
as in the Torah, God calls Moses to confront Pharaoh.  Even after God has wrought 
two transforming miracles, changing Moses’ staff to a serpent and back, then 
changing the color of the skin on Moses’ hand without hurting him, Moses reminds 
God of his disability and asks for help:  
	Lord,…put courage into my heart, and make my task easy.  Free my tongue 
	from its impediment, that men may understand my speech.  Appoint 
	for me a counselor from among my kinsmen, Aaron my brother.  Grant 
	me strength through him and let him share my task, so that we may give 
	glory to You always and remember You always.  You are surely watching 
	over us. (20:24-26)  [1]

In another surah’s version of this conversation, Moses expresses his anxiety about 
others’ reaction to his disability and asks that someone seemingly more able be 
sent: “I fear [the people of Pharaoh] will reject me.  I may become impatient and 
stammer in my speech.  Send for Aaron.” (26:12) [2]  Elsewhere, he explains, “Aaron 
my brother is more fluent of tongue than I; send him with me that he may help me 
and confirm my words, for I fear they will reject me.”(28:29) [3]  In the Torah, 
Moses actually tries to argue God out or this call, starting with the question, “Who 
am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 
3:11) [4]  After raising several other objections, Moses attempts to draw God’s 
attention to his chronic disability: “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither 
in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of 
speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)  [5] God pointedly reminds Moses that he 
is speaking with the very Creator and Empowerer of all people with disabilities. 
“Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it 
not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are 
to speak.” (Exodus 4:11-12) Even then, Moses asks plainly, “O my Lord, please send 
someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) [6] Moses’ lack of self-confidence angers God, who 
reminds him of his brother Aaron’s eloquence and promises to send them together. In 
the Koran, God reassures him, “Have no fear…. We shall be with you and shall hear 
all.” (26:14) God expands on this promise in another surah: “We will strengthen 
your arm with your brother, and will bestow such power on you both, that none shall 
harm you.” (28:35) [7]

God reminds Moses in several places in the Koran and Torah that in spite of his own 
doubts about his ability and disability, God had chosen him for this prophetic task 
even before his birth. In the Koran, Moses is called “the Apostle of the Lord of the 
Universe.”(7:105, 43:47). [8]  He is the intercessor for his people, “a true 
believer,” and (along with Noah, Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad) one of Islam’s five 
prophets. (40:38; 2:137, 33:7) [9]  Moses had a unique conversational relationship 
with God: “God spoke directly to Moses.”(4:165) [10]  He received God’s revelation 
and proclaimed it to others, giving all succeeding generations of “People of the 
Book” (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) an understanding of “the distinction between 
right and wrong” through the Torah. (21:49) [11] “Such is God’s guidance; He bestows 
it on whom He pleases of His servants.” (6:88)  [12]

In both the Hebrew and Arabic accounts of God’s covenant with Moses, several key 
ideas for a spirituality of teaching and disability emerge.  First, God grants each 
of Moses’ requests for help, demonstrating what the 1990 Americans with Disabilities 
Act calls “reasonable accommodation” on both a spiritual and practical level.  
Second, God doesn’t heal Moses. (Exodus 4:10)  Rather, God empowers him to fulfill 
his vocation. (Surah 28:35, Exodus 4:12)  Third, the Torah suggests that God 
intentionally creates humans with a variety of abilities and disabilities. (Exodus 
4:11) God doesn’t seem to attach any stigma to what we call “disability.”  In both 
the Hebrew and Arabic versions, Moses’ disability isn’t a problem with him or with 
God, rather it is a problem created by the Egyptians’ and Israelites’ reactions.  
Fourth, both the Torah and Koran assure that God is always with people with 
disabilities in our struggles and successes. (Surah 26:14, Exodus 4:12) Finally, 
the God-ordained relationship between Moses and his brother Aaron demonstrates that 
God’s intention is for people with and without disabilities to work together and to 
help each other.  While Aaron did indeed help us brother articulate God’s messages, 
Moses helped Aaron to remain strong in his faith and courageous in his leadership 
of the Israelites. (Exodus 32:21-35)  [13]

While these interactions between God and Moses provide a spiritual model and 
resource for teachers, it is significant that this relationship is not one-sided.  
First, Moses asks for help, as students should be encouraged to do from the first 
day of class.  (I put a paragraph for students with disabilities in all course 
syllabi and mention it during the orientation session.)  Second, Moses doesn’t ask 
to be healed; he does remind God that his disability appears to be ongoing. (Exodus 
4:10)  His doing so illustrates the need for students with disabilities (especially 
chronic or degenerative disabilities) to be assertive about reasonable accommodation 
with teachers, administrators, doctors, and even family members and friends sometimes.  
Finally, in both the Koran and the Torah, Moses continually expresses his frustration, 
fears, and self-doubts—even to God.  Moses’ courage to confess his struggles with 
his disability to his Creator points to the kinds of conversations we need to be 
free to have in the academy if teachers and students with disabilities are truly to 
be “reasonably accommodated,” welcomed and supported.

 [1] The Koran. Trans. N. J. Dawood. New York: Penguin, 1995, 220.
 [2] Ibid., 258.
 [3] Ibid., 274.
 [4] The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 3rd ed. Michael Coogan, ed. Oxford: Oxford University, 2001, 87.
 [5]  Ibid., 88.
 [6]  Ibid.
 [7]  The Koran, 274.
 [8]  Ibid., 117, 346.
 [9]  Ibid., 31; 23, 294.
 [10]  Ibid., 77.
 [11]  Ibid., 230.
 [12]  Ibid., 100.
 [13]  The Bible, 130.

Heather Ann Ackley Bean, Ph.D.
Azusa Pacific University 

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