Welcome to Disabilities and Faith.org
The Friendship Ministries reports that people with mental illness, autism, and environmental, visual, physical, hearing, and cognitive disabilities run into barriers at church. Capital Area Disabilities Ministries found that many houses of worship mistakenly assume that becoming more accessible will be a financial drain. Even when houses of worship are willing, congregations often believe that once they raise the money and address the barriers of architecture, the job is finished (Salmon, 2007).
The National Organization on Disability found that approximately 85% of people with and without disabilities state their religious faith is important in their lives, but only 47% of people with disabilities attend church at least once a month, most likely due to architectural, programmatic, communication and attitudinal barriers. Of all the barriers to full participation and inclusion, the barrier of unexamined attitudes is the most difficult to address," states Ginny Thornburgh, director of the American Association of People with Disabilities' Interfaith Initiative.
Barriers exist if:
- I avoid you because your speech is hard to understand and I feel inadequate.
- I am seen as an object of pity or a superhero because I have a disability, instead of a person with potential.
- I believe your lack of faith is the reason your disability is not healed.
- You suspect my multiple sclerosis may be a punishment for sin (NOD, 2001).
- You think that my child’s behavior is caused by bad parenting.
- My child is disruptive and I get disapproving looks.
- No one invites my children to birthday parties or other activities.
Becoming an accessible church means much more than simply installing an entrance ramp, it involves design choices so anyone can access the platform, sound systems, and Bibles, hymnals, prayer books and bulletins available in alternative formats including large print, Braille and electronic. It also means inclusion in all services and activities.
Statements from Faith-based leaders and organizations about disabilities:
Outside the door of every congregation, there are those who cannot enter, or once in, do not feel welcome. Through your outreach, you will be fulfilling God’s mandate to make the House of God fully inclusive for ALL people of God! (Reverend Harold H. Wilke, Founder and Director the Healing Community).
Religion offers community to our lonely human souls. The house of worship represents one place where the barriers fall and we all stand equal before God (Rabbi Harold Kushner, NOD, 2001).
Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life. (Buddha).
Allah does not judge according to your bodies and appearances, but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds. (Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam).
When we think of persons with disabilities in relation to ministries, we tend automatically to think of doing something for them. We do not reflect that they can do something for us and with us…they have the same duty as all members of the community to do the Lord’s work in the world, according to their God given talents and capacities. (Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, no. 17, NOD, 2001).
Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we. (United Church of Christ).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is working to provide easier access to its buildings for people with disabilities. . . . But there is an even greater need to reduce the barriers imposed by a lack of understanding and acceptance of those who have disabilities. We urge leaders, teachers, friends and families to: help increase awareness and understanding of disabilities; accept those with disabilities as children of God and help them to feel respected, loved and understood; and provide meaningful opportunities for members with disabilities to serve, teach and lead others. (Church News, Apr. 29, 1989, 7).
Friendship and inclusion is critical
- Include in all church and social activities.
- Ask parents what they hope for.
- Don’t allow teasing or insults for any reason.
- Help teachers not to be frightened. Ask parents for a set of rules and consequences. Use positive reinforcement and ignore negative behaviors, unless it is aggression or running away.
- Be creative and try new ideas with parent’s permission.
- Seek inspiration, novel ideas often come from pondering, prayer and reflection.
Ways to be more inclusive and welcoming
- Use people first language in sermons, homilies, bulletins, and newsletters.
- Use access symbols in announcements, advertisements and signage.
- State, all are welcome and provide a phone number to provide any needed accommodations in all event announcements.
- Personally invite children and adults with disabilities to participate in ministries, clubs, religious education programs and events. Arrange for accommodations.
- Make materials available in audiotape, large print, Braille and electronic formats.
- Install amplification systems and provide listening devices. Create a list of qualified interpreters and provide when needed.
- Keep individuals who are blind informed by announcing information from the bulletin at the end or beginning of worship service.
- When new members join, ask in a sensitive and dignified way if any accommodations would enhance their participation in the faith community. (Pathways Awareness Foundation)
A welcoming church offers empowerment, not pity; advocacy not avoidance; and support not stigma
- To the extent possible, eliminate all barriers that keep members with disabilities from attending meetings and activities. A welcoming attitude with easy access, handrails, materials in alternative formats, audiovisual equipment and parking makes full participation possible.
- Seek and discuss ideas to promote understanding and better inclusion of children and adults with disabilities.
- Remember that all can contribute to the building of the kingdom of God and should receive the blessings of giving and receiving. All members need a friend, an assignment or calling and nourishing by the word of God (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, in partnership with the Utah Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Human Capabilities received funding from the Interagency Outreach Training Initiative to provide statewide training to faith leaders in Utah.
Participants will increase their understanding of:
- Creating a more welcoming and inclusive atmosphere
- Providing physical access
- Providing programmatic, auditory and visual access
- Communicating appropriately and effectively
- Identifying and reaching out to people with disabilities
- Connecting with local, state and national resources
This website is a result of the training project. We hope that you find it useful and informative. Please feel free to suggest links, articles or other information.