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
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