Being part of a community has many benefits that contribute to our well-being. We become interested in connecting with others, feel acceptance through our participation, and gain a sense of security that there are other people here who can help us. Faith-based community participation for people with developmental disabilities is no different.
Congregations that include people with developmental disabilities say their worship experiences have been enriched by their presence and spiritual gift-sharing.
People with developmental disabilities have expressed finding strength and comfort in their ability to worship and practice their faith with other congregational members.
Open your doors, hearts and minds to an inclusive congregation!
Faith-Based Initiative Program
People with developmental disabilities want to be active participants and meaningful contributors to their communities. They want the same choice to grow spiritually, enjoy community life and experience relationships.
The OPWDD Faith-Based Initiative Program explores new avenues and expands upon opportunities for people with developmental disabilities that will respect their beliefs, support their right to belong to a faith community, and assist them to become valued members in the house of faith they have chosen.
Access to Worship
People with developmental disabilities are present in your community, but are they present in your congregation? How can you engage people with developmental disabilities so they feel welcome in your house of worship?
Some questions you might want to consider when assessing whether you present a welcoming atmosphere to people with developmental disabilities:
The manner in which we interact with people with developmental disabilities speaks volumes about our perspective of their worth and impacts whether they feel welcome,
- Do people with disabilities feel welcome at your service?
- Are there people with invisible disabilities in your congregations?
- Do you recognize that people with disabilities have gifts, skills and talents to share?
- Are people with disabilities given opportunities to serve others through your ministries?
- Do you have people with disabilities participating in your worship service?
- Do you have people with disabilities in leadership roles?
What you say and how you say it is an important component of helping people understand and making them feel understood.
- Are services presented through more than one medium? (verbally, visually, liturgical dance, music)?
- Are there large print religious books, music books and other liturgical materials available?
- Is there an amplified sound system?
- Are sign language or other language interpreters present?
- Are services available on tape or CD?
- Is there adequate lighting?
Not having adequate access to a place of worship can be a deterrent for many with physical disabilities.
- Is there accessible parking?
- Are there accessible ramps, pathways and steps?
- Are there accessible doors and doorways?
- Is there accessibility to worship space (preferably, not just in the back)?
- Are there accessible bathrooms?
- Are there elevators and lifts?
Interacting with People with Developmental Disabilities
Many times, families wait for religious leaders and educators to make the first contact.
Here are some suggestions on effective ways to communicate and help meet the needs of people with developmental disabilities.
- Hospitality begins with a warm greeting; say hello or offer a handshake.
- Some people feel uncomfortable about how to address a person with a disability. Refer to them the same way you want to be referred to i.e. "Mr./Mrs." and/or "brother/sister in Christ."
- Adults with developmental disabilities are still adults, treat them as such.
- Individuals with developmental disabilities may take longer to say or do certain things; be patient and only offer assistance when requested.
- Never speak for them.
- Give an individual the opportunity to do as much for themselves as possible.
- Do not assume a person’s capabilities to read. Give them the bulletins, prayer books, hymnals, pew bibles, etc.
- If you observe a person engaging in inappropriate behavior, provide feedback that is non-judgmental in tone.
- Have printed copies of Sermon/Scriptures available*.
- Use larger fonts on programs.
- Print hymns to be sung in larger fonts.
- Encourage all speakers to use a microphone.
*Look for volunteers to help prepare these items so as not to overwhelm church staff.
For entrances and other areas of the building:
- Look for community volunteers or groups to assist in building ramps (Habitat for Humanity, organizations building homes for disabled vets).
- Look for large stores to donate supplies (Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot).
- Hold fundraisers for particular needs (think person, not program; one step at a time).
For inside the worship area:
- Have scattered seating spaces in the church (or pew cuts) throughout the sanctuary, rather than in the front or the back, so individuals can sit in the main body.
- Place the lectern/and mike stand on the main floor for individuals to use.
- Have bookstands/lap boards available for those who cannot hold books for a period of time.
- Light the area where speakers are so they can be seen individuals who may be reading lips.
- Some houses of worship use visual monitors so that readings, songs and speakers can be viewed by the whole congregation.
Keep in mind that you don't always have to know exactly what to do. It is a learning process for everyone involved. You can discover solutions together as you go along. Your support and presence are what's most important.