Beyond Disability Awareness: 4 Ways to Equip Your Church to Serve
A post by guest blogger, Barbara Bushart, MDIV, MSW, adjunct professor at Northeastern Seminary.
A 2007 study funded by the National Organization on Disability reported that 54 million Americans live with a significant and permanent disability. In light of that statistic, churches must be prepared to minister to individuals with disabilities and their families with sensitivity and a biblical vision of hospitality which welcomes all people. One mother of a child with autism related that she was tired of churches turning her and her son away by saying they were not “equipped” for her son’s special needs. What must we do to become better “equipped” to welcome those living with disabilities? Some suggestions follow for those wishing to begin or strengthen existing disability ministries:
1) Express an openness to address accessibility issues. Invite dialogue when individuals or families encounter barriers to their full participation in the life of the local congregation. Be sure that all print and electronic media utilized by your community of faith have statements that welcome people to share their needs in this regard.
2) Involve individuals and families in decisions about what accommodations work well for their circumstances. Many common and erroneous assumptions exist about various disabilities. For example: Not all blind individuals have learned to read Brailled materials and many people with profound hearing loss do not use sign language to communicate. Good intentions based on wrong information will not yield a positive outcome. Ask, listen, and proceed together toward a solution for the accessibility need represented.
3) Do not assume that most accommodations are cost-prohibitive. Often creativity and willingness are more necessary components to eliminate barriers than funds.
4) Do not become discouraged or impatient if the solution requires multiple attempts before it is solved. Every setting and situation is unique and the person with the disability may not have an immediate answer to what will work without some experimentation. The process itself can be an opportunity to give and receive grace if approached with open minds and hearts.
Barbara Isaman-Bushart, MDIV, MSW, Adjunct professor,
Disability Awareness for Christian Ministers and Laypersons
Learn more about Disability Awareness class offered April 9 – May 7, 2012.
 National Organization on Disability, accessed October 15, 2009, http://nod.org.
 Preliminary research indicates that the “unchurched” rate of families where a child has a disability is between 90 and 95% as cited by Jessica James Baldridge, “Church Based Disability Ministries” in Why O God? Suffering and Disability in the Bible and the Church, ed. Larry J. Waters and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011), 40.