Friday, 4 January 2013

You probably Won't Read This Because It's About Disability.

I'm sorry for the tongue in cheek title - I did name it that as a joke, but as with many jokes, there is just a grain of truth in it.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when churches are thinking about disability and additional needs, we need a totally different way of thinking. Actually - some churches need to start to think about this as there’s no thinking to change!

How Does Your Church View Disability?

Is it part of the health and safety policy (How to evacuate the premises in the event of a fire) or part of the logistics policy of the church (Where do we put wheelchairs and is the loop system working)?

Is it viewed with some fear or maybe some belligerence (We can’t be expected to do everything when we don’t have any disabled people)?

Or, is it viewed with a different mindset? 
Is your church’s policy on disability placed firmly in the same place as caring for any other person in your church? Are they included in your pastoral thinking? Do you think of them when writing your evangelism policies? When you are training and helping people to find where their giftings are - do you include people with disabilities (including preaching, teaching and leading worship)?

We Need to Be Missional in Our Thinking. 

Rather than thinking “what do we do with the disabled people? Where do we put them, how do we make them safe and stop them complaining”,  we need to change our mindset so we see the person before the disability.

We need to stop treating them as a different people group. And to start seeing the need to facilitate faith and worship for all in our communities. We need to think differently for all those we are reaching out to.

Many of our churches are willing to think differently in the way they approach church and worship. We have seen an emergence of cafe church, messy church, seeker friendly churches etc, but sadly, there appears to be little appetite for making our services accessible at every level, for all.

Those who have disabilities are part of our communities. Yes, some may need to use a wheel chair, need large print or braille, need a signer - but first and foremost, they are people. If we start from seeing those with disabilities as people rather than a health and safety issue, and make them our friends, we will see much more easily how to facilitate them in our communities.

In caring for our church communities we think nothing of making meals for someone who has just had a baby, doing the ironing for some one who has had an operation, so why is caring for someone with a disability, and their family, such a big deal? Is it because it is a long term conscious decision rather than a short term emergency plan?

We Need to be a Welcoming Church 

The disability discrimination act requires us to be pre-emptive in our provision within services and church activities - on top of providing access to the building. I think this is a good thing - and a gospel thing to do. We want to be welcoming to any new person coming into our churches and that’s great! But how welcoming is it to come into a church and have to use the back door to get in? (Using the back door isn’t the issue - it’s the lack of welcome at the back door) To not be able to sing because you can’t see the words, not not be able to know what’s going on because the loop isn’t working….. The list goes on.

As a Christian who is disabled I have to put up with a lot. I rarely complain, but occasionally I will comment for the purpose of training for others. Sometimes I can see that things are done a certain way because there is a logistical problem, and for the greater majority it is the best way….. I am not the centre of the universe, it doesn’t have to be changed just for me. You will find most people with disabilities think the same way.
What I do comment on are thoughtless mistakes. They seem sensible to the person putting them in place, but they haven’t had cause to think it through from a disability point of view.

At the risk of embarrassing male readers, here’s one I and my disabled female friends often come up against:

We have to use the accessible toilet. When you look for the bin for sanitary items you find a note that says “The bin for sanitary items is in the main ladies toilets in the end cubicle”. Now, just stop and think that through a moment…. we have to use the accessible toilet because…… we can’t get into the main toilets!

I’ll close with that thought, but leave you with a challenge. How about looking around your church for issues just like this? How about sitting through a service looking at it from the perspective of different disabilities. Don’t just leave it at wheelchair users and those who are blind or deaf, think it through for those who are elderly and unwell, those who have learning difficulties, those who are autistic. Think about your children's work and your youth work too - there are many, many children and youth out there who have additional needs and disabilities. 

When it comes to those who have additional needs and disabilities  and are outside our church communities - it is a virtually unreached mission field. What are we going to do about it? How missional are we in our approach to disability?

How can your church be more welcoming to people (Adults and Children) who have disabilities and additional needs?

You can contact “Churches for All” for more advice. Just ask and I’ll put you in touch :o)

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