Living with a disability is a reality for nearly 20 percent of the American population, affecting two of every seven families, and though eight of 10 people with disabilities state that they consider faith to be an important part of their lives, they also report they are very unlikely to attend religious services.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and still houses of faith are often much less accessible than secular organizations. Addressing accessibility calls for more than architectural accommodations such as ramps, elevators or lifts, though these are very crucial; awareness, open attitudes, and flexibility in practice are also key to breaking down barriers for people with disabilities as they seek faith communities in which to worship and grow in faith.
The goal is not to create ministries “for” but an openness to learn “from” individuals living with disabilities and to grow in reciprocal relationships that would truly represent full incorporation into the Body of Christ. The gifts of full inclusion are diverse and rich: exposure to fresh ways of seeing, hearing, and expressing God’s character and active presence in the world; a witness that human vulnerability is accepted in Christ’s Church and that all human life is infused with God-given dignity and value; and the much-needed gift to slow the pace of ministry and recognize the Holy Spirit’s work among the people of God—ALL the people of God.
This blog series features the work of students from the Disability Awareness course offered at Northeastern Seminary during the 2015 fall semester. Instructed by adjunct professor Barbara Isaman-Bushart (MDiv/MSW, ‘08), this course focuses on the diverse needs of individuals living with disabilities, with an emphasis on how to improve awareness, accessibility, and inclusion within the local church. To learn more about taking this course and other Seminary course options click here.
Barbara Isaman-Bushart has worked in the Greater Rochester area as social worker dedicated to disability advocacy for many years. She is also a part-time faculty member of SUNY Empire State College and a member of the pastoral team at Community of the Savior in Rochester, N.Y.