Have you ever wondered how your church handles and includes people with a disability? Did you know that only 50% of people with disabilities decide to even walk into the door of a church? (Harris Poll)
This is an issue that is difficult for many churches to wrap their minds around because it is vast, there are many different disabilities, and, because of separation of church and state, churches are not “required” to adhere to the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).
To narrow down this big topic, we will be discussing children with disabilities in the church and some basic starter ways to include them in your programing and events.
These families have one or more children with a disability, but most of the parents do not have a disability. The parents of children with disabilities are under much of the same stress other parents are, however, they have the added worry of people accepting their child for who they are not what they look like or what they can or cannot do.
It is nerve racking enough to walk into a church where you know no one and drop your child off, but having to worry about how church staff as well as other parents and children view your child can be painful, especially when there is a lack of education about inclusion of those with disabilities.
Making the church more accessible should be a main priority for all churches in order to follow the mission set forth by Jesus in Mark 16:15. This mission states “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.“
So how do we include these families, make them feel welcome, and give their children the attention and accommodations they need without breaking the bank or stretching ourselves to thin?
Enlist Volunteers That Have A Heart For Those With Disabilities
This is the first, and easiest, step for churches of any size, to accommodate children with disabilities. By having these type of volunteers on hand, a church can take the collective knowledge of the body and build from it. Because these individuals already have a heart for those with disabilities they will, more than likely, have some understanding of disabilities from experience or formal education.
In a survey completed by Melinda Ault Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky in 2010, 90% of parents surveyed said that a church community that was accepting of those with disabilities took the stress out of attending church, however, only 80% of these parents found that acceptance at the churches attended.
How sad would you be if you desperately wanted your child to learn about Jesus with other children, but could barely walk in the door without a scoff or a stare from, not only people around, but leadership and volunteers as well?
By having dedicated volunteers, you not only give a more welcoming atmosphere to these families, but other people in the church have someone to point these families to making the message the same across the board instead of some people knowing the right resources and others having no idea.
Make Sure Basic Communication And Mobility Needs Are Met
The ability to get where you need to go and communicate with the people around you is an essential need for everyone. Those with wheelchairs will need access to an elevator, ramp, or wheelchair lift to get to areas of your church that have stairs. Individuals who are blind will need braille signs and/or assistance from another individual and those who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing will need Closed Captioning or an interpreter.
That can all seem very daunting, but there are many ways to go about placing these resources in your church. Ramps for wheelchairs start as low as $110 and can be easily installed and removed for convenience. Closed Captioning can be done while a message is taking place on screen by church leadership or a volunteer and reaching out into your church body may reveal an interpreter or a student training to be one that would be willing to volunteer. Finally, Braille signs can be easily made and start at just $14 a piece.
Ensure The Child Is Included During Service
Children, especially young children, do not understand that certain words and actions can hurt another person’s feelings. This is especially true when someone seems different. What a great teaching opportunity for all children about being loving to all people though! Leaders do not need to feel like they need to follow the child around if they do not seem to need it or it has not been asked for, but it is wise to stay in arms and ears reach away. This allows for the leader to easily step in and address any conflict or confusion that may occur.
Situation: You have an autistic child who is not super comfortable with other people touching him when another child comes up to give them a hug.
Talking Point(s): Explain to the child who wanted to give a hug that sometimes not everyone wants a hug right away, but that they can play together (rolling a ball back and forth, playing cars, playing with dinosaurs, making a meal with pretend food, etc.). Show the children how to play together and get them started on an agreed upon activity.
Take Away: This gives the child with autism the ability to get comfortable in the environment while teaching the other child about differences and playing with someone else in spite of the differences.
Allowing these children and families to have the resources needed to participate is such a blessing to them as well as to the church body. Every person deserves the ability to walk into a church and hear about Jesus and accessibility should not be a hindrance.
For more information please visit:
1. Disabilities and Faith– http://www.disabilitiesandfaith.org/
2. The Church and People with Disabilities by Peggy Johnson
3. Joni and Friends International Disability Center– http://www.joniandfriends.org/
4. Mission Frontiers– http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/the-deaf
You can also contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
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“What did you want to be when you grow up?” I curiously asked my Mother-in-Law on our way to lunch with my two little ones. We had been talking about my business and how my Brother-in-Law was finishing up school to be a lawyer, and I was dying to know what she had imagined herself doing when she was little. I was expecting something like be a teacher, or a ballerina because she is a very ambitious woman.
She looked at me on that windy mountain road and said, “I wanted to be a mom”. I was a little shocked. My Mother-in-Law, a successful business woman, wanted to be a mom. She proceeded to explain that she, “lived in a generation where they didn’t ask girls what they wanted to be. Everyone assumed you would be a mother, and that the man would take care of working.” And that was that.
Obviously, in this day and age, we live in a world where girls are, asked what they want to be, and are encouraged to pursue those dreams. You can see women picking themselves up by the bootstraps to make a better life for themselves everywhere you go. From the single mother who works and finds time to get to every school function to the first generation college student working several jobs to put themselves through school, there is no lack of talented up and coming women. I was one of these rising stars in the eyes of my peers, and then I got married and found out soon after that I was pregnant.
As a mother and a business woman, sometimes the lines get blurred by sleepy eyes, sick kids, a working husband, dirty house, and the other 500 items I still have to check off my list and I lose sight of my ambitions and dreams. Before I became a mom, I was convinced I could conquer the world, and at the time, I was. Then we found out we were pregnant with our precious little girl 4 years and 5 months before I planned on even trying to get pregnant. Thus, my five-year plan didn’t work out as well as I had hoped and the people that had been giving me accolades for my accomplishments before were not impressed with me creating human life. I fell into depression and walked around blankly for many months with no clue what I was supposed to do with my life and feeling completely useless to my husband, society, and to myself. My success had been what gave me value and being a mom with dirty hair, dark circles, and puke on every shirt did not make me feel valuable at all.
One day I woke up though, and had to ask myself what I wanted to be when I grow up. I had forgotten my passion and drive because I became focused on what society told me after I had a baby, that I was not as valuable, that I was “wasting my life”. I had to change my thought process and “stick it to the man” so to speak. I decided that I would rise above the assumptions of my circle of family and friends and show them that I could be a mom and follow my dreams, even when those dreams have temporarily changed or are put on hold.
I can tell you not everything I thought would be happening in my life right now is happening, and that is okay. I am a mom first and foremost, but I will not let society shame me for thinking about my future as well and neither should you. We have to stick together as moms and not degrade every parenting style and life choice everyone makes. Take the time to take care of you today because if you are empty, you cannot give anything you don’t have to your kids. They will thank you later for taking care of you, your husband will thank you, and you will thank you. Don’t throw your dreams away. They may be on hold or temporarily change, but hold onto them and like Walt Disney said, “Keep moving forward” because you got this momma!