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STM Faculty Member Stresses Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities

School of Theology and Ministry Professor Mary Jo Iozzio. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Office of News & Public Affairs |

Published: Aug. 11, 2014

School of Theology and Ministry Professor Mary Jo Iozzio played a high-profile role at an international conference held in Malaysia during late July on the Christian church community’s responsibility to advocate for persons with disabilities.

Iozzio presented the keynote address, “Diverse and Dependent by Design: Building an Inclusive Church Community," at the opening of the conference, titled "Moving Beyond Accommodations to Affirmation and Advocacy with and for People with Disabilities." The event was sponsored by the Council for World Mission (CWM) and the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Approximately 75 representatives of the member churches of CWM and their allies in the WCC attended.

“Jesus’s own life and death challenges every hegemony, norm and ideology that preserves some are better than most and those accounted least do not matter,” said Iozzio in her keynote, calling for the conference to focus on the themes of accommodation, affirmation, advocacy, accountability and adjustment.

In addition, Iozzio was part of the conference’s “listening group,” which gave daily responses to participants in the various presentations and workshops and produced a concluding conference statement for the media. She also served on a panel examining the potential for integrating disability studies into the worldwide theological curricula, and chaired a workshop session that discussed consciousness-raising in justice work to promote the full participation of people with disabilities in arenas of human interaction.

Following the conference, Iozzio was asked to review “The Gift of Being,” a working document of the WCC’s Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network that builds on previous writings about challenges and opportunities for people with disabilities.

"I consider my presence and participation at this conference a great privilege, it was the most diverse gathering of people – from geographical, cultural, racial, gender, and disability groups – I have yet encountered,” said Iozzio in a recent interview. “The ‘hands-on’ concerns and practical suggestions for ministry with and for people with disabilities of all kinds was critically important for the Church in mission and the people with whom and for whom the Church serves. I look forward to working with this community again and hope to advance Catholic ministry and theological studies with and for people with disabilities."

Iozzio has been involved with the intersections of religion, disability, and theological ethics for 20 years. She serves as an inaugural member of American Academy of Religion Standing Committee on the Status of People with Disabilities in the Profession. With articles in academic and popular publications, she is finalizing the edits to her monograph on a theological ethics in the key of disability.