Disability Studies

This section is concerned with the general issues of people with disabilities. We have added this section for all committed to developing theoretical and practical knowledge about disability and promoting the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society.

Disability Studies Quarterly

Disability Studies Quarterly (DSQ) is the journal of the Society for Disability Studies (SDS). It is a multidisciplinary and international journal of interest to social scientists, scholars in the humanities and arts, disability rights advocates, and others concerned with the issues of people with disabilities. It represents the full range of methods, epistemologies, perspectives, and content that the field of disability studies embraces. https://dsq-sds.org/index


During the Amoris Laetitia Family Year, the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life is launching the #IamChurch campaign: 5 videos in which persons with disabilities, from different parts of the world, recount their experience of faith and affirm, “I am Church!”.

Each video aims to bring out the contribution that persons with disabilities offer to the ecclesial community on a daily basis. The work of evangelization carried out by some deaf young persons in Mexico, the monastery in France where some nuns with Down syndrome live out their vocation, the group of Italian youth with intellectual disabilities who participate in World Youth Days, are just a few examples of a broader reality that the campaign intends to start showing.

The videos are available on the following link and on the YouTube channels of Vatican News and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. http://www.laityfamilylife.va/content/laityfamilylife/en/amoris-laetitia/iniziative-e-risorse/i-am-church.html

Pearls, Promises, and Potholes: A Traffic Report from the Intersections of Faith, Ministry, Theology, and Disability

A discussion with Bill Gaventa on new resources, promising practices, and problem areas in the rapidly growing movements and initiatives to include people with disabilities and their families in faith communities and in ministry and theological training. *From Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

From Barriers to Belonging: The Church and People with Disabilities

Led by Erik W. Carter, this session focuses on ten dimensions of belonging and their salience to the inclusion of people with intellectual disability, autism, and other developmental disabilities in the full life of the church. By: Erik W. Carter Tags: congregational care, disabilities, hospitality, inclusive worship, symposium 2018, youthAudio posted on May 10, 2018

What does it really mean for people with disabilities and their families (or anyone at all) to truly belong within their faith community? This session focuses on ten dimensions of belonging and their salience to the inclusion of people with intellectual disability, autism, and other developmental disabilities in the full life of the church. Led by Erik W. Carter, the presentation spurred deeper reflection about the ways in which churches might welcome and weave people with disabilities more fully into worship, learning, service, and relationships that lead to a life of flourishing. *From Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Download this multimedia file

Download the handout

Sermon Series and Study Guide on Belonging for All Abilities

*From Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Your church can use new resources, such as a sermon series and study guide, to help your congregation move from including people with disabilities to becoming a place of belonging for all abilities. Then you can pass on what you’ve learned to other congregations. By: Joan Huyser-Honig Tags: accessible worship, disabilities, inclusive worship, peer learning, preaching, sermonsArticle posted on June 21, 2021

After hearing Erik W. Carter talk about the ten dimensions of belonging, Karen Roberts thought about how many biblical passages support God’s desire to include people of all abilities in worship. Roberts is pastor of disability at First Presbyterian Church in Aurora (metro Chicago), Illinois. With peers in All Belong’s Circle of Congregations and the First Pres preaching staff, Roberts developed a seven-week sermon series on belonging. (All Belong is a nonprofit catalyzer for inclusive Christ-centered communities.)  

“The aspect of belonging is universal to the Christian experience, similar to the question of why God allows suffering. Sermons about belonging and suffering speak to families that live with disability—but everyone can relate. It’s an example of universal design learning,” Roberts says. She’s also writing a study guide to use with the sermon series.  

Explore the ten dimensions of belonging 

Roberts explains that she used to see disability ministry as outreach to individuals and families impacted by disability (inclusion). Now she believes the Holy Spirit is leading congregations and ministries to focus on ministry among and with people of varied abilities (belonging). That’s why she was so taken with an April 2020 Circle of Congregations online conversation with Erik W. Carter. He is a professor of special education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee; a member of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center; and an All Belong board member.  

Carter asked individuals and families impacted by disability to describe what belonging to a faith community would look like. This research revealed that people with disabilities and their families identified ten dimensions of belonging in community: being present, invited, welcomed, known, accepted, supported, cared for, befriended, needed, and loved.  

Use this sermon outline template to preach about belonging 

First Pres Aurora planned a seven-week sermon series called “The Family Table: The Place We all Belong.” The sermon series took place in winter 2021 and can be used or adapted elsewhere. “Our written sermons aren’t part of the posted resources because we believe pastors will want to do their own research on the suggested passages and preach from their context. We designed our series so that each sermon will be useful as a stand-alone option. For some churches, these ideas may be new,” Robert says. 

  • Visit the All Belong website to see the sermon series overview and find relevant books and disability ministry resources. The sermon series is available from First Presbyterian Church Aurora.
  • Each weekly page, such as week three, which deals with the belonging dimensions of being known and accepted, includes a sermon title, scripture focus, key idea, brief notes, and call to action.  
  • Watch all seven worship services in First Pres Aurora’s “The Family Table: The Place We All Belong.” 

Choose worship elements for your context 

Weekly pages suggest worship elements, such as songs, stories, participatory readings, creative prayer ideas, and examples of how First Pres Aurora explored the dimensions of belonging. Senior pastor Jeff Moore’s heirloom family dining room table stood on the church platform during the series. The first Sunday focused on the first dimension of belonging, being present. Near the end of the service, a family set the dining table with the Moore family’s dishware and table linens (1:01:39 in week one). Meanwhile, the congregation sang “There Is One Body” by Steve Williamson, cathedral dean of Church of the Resurrection in Aurora, Illinois.  

“On other Sundays, we learned as a congregation how to use American Sign Language to sign words of slow songs that are easy to learn, such as ‘Be Glorified‘ by Bob Kilpatrick,” Roberts says. 

Circle of Congregations peers suggested sharing stories of belonging through videos. First Pres compiled this video in which a Friendship Bible Club member describes friendship as “I have friends that are like my jelly to my peanut butter. We’ve been smooshed together like a sandwich.” The Family Table services also included stories from books and videos, such as this brief clip about a group home coming to church (stop at 0:50) and this Rain for Roots musical retelling of the Luke 14 wedding banquet parable

The sermon series works well for virtual and in-person worship 

“Our sermon series took place when we were meeting only online, so we know the series works in that format. Public health directives limited who could be on the platform when we live streamed worship. Only the preaching pastor and a small worship and tech team were present in the sanctuary. We created three videos so we could include people of varied abilities presenting scripture, such as Psalm 139, or reflecting on a dimension of belonging.  

“As churches return to in-person format, this series provides a wonderful opportunity for people of all abilities to lead worship together. It starts with really knowing the individual. Participation flows from each individual’s gifting, ability, and enjoyment. When we did our ‘All Belong worship’ service just before the pandemic lockdown, we included songs led by our regular choir combined with vocalists from Friendship Bible Club. We can ask people who love to read to read Scripture in worship. Those who play the autoharp for Friendship Bible Club can also do so in our Sunday services,” Roberts says.  

Use this study guide in other church settings 

Roberts is writing a study guide to correlate with the seven-week sermon series. The guide is designed for small groups of varied abilities and ages. Each lesson is interactive and includes multisensory ways for children, youth, adults, and intergenerational groups to engage and respond. Lessons include links to short videos along with options to use the guide without videos.  

Roberts says she’s grateful for the opportunity to learn from and pray with her Circle of Congregations peers in disability ministry. “These thought partners have given me study guide lesson ideas, such as ways for children to experience in small ways how to walk in the shoes of someone who lives with disability. They reminded me that responses that are less word-focused help more people participate. This might be giving a thumbs up or thumbs down, adding movement to worship songs about the discussion topics, or creating a poster together. During songs, people can wave praise streamers with colors representing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (gold, red, and white). 

Small groups could use the guide to prepare for an upcoming sermon or as a follow-up to a sermon. Even in churches that don’t do the sermon series, small groups can use the study guide to explore the theme of belonging. Roberts expects that the study guide will be available in September 2021 at All Belong’s sermon series landing page

Share your experiences 

As of June 2021, The Family Table sermon series had only been preached at Roberts’ church. “My hope is that through this series other congregations will grow in their awareness and understanding of what it means for the Church to be the place we all belong. God created each person to be in relationship with him and then with one another. The desire for belonging is universal. Our welcome to others begins with God’s welcome to us. I hope that the sermon series may help break down barriers to belonging through the Word, through stories of belonging, and through worshipping as one body, made up of many parts, all gathered at The Family Table,” she says.  

Would you like to join pilot churches from Circle of Congregations in leading your congregation, youth group, small group, or study by using the sermon series outline or study guide? If so, then please contact All Belong. “We’d love to  hear how you uniquely adapted the series and how it impacted your community. Our prayer is that it is a resource that God will use to impact many congregations!” Roberts says. 


Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer
Every day ordinary people, the very presence of Christ; The Mercy, and Grace of Christ blessing and caring for the people they encounter in their everyday lives, whatever their occupation..

Inclusion Handbook Editors: Mark Stephenson, Terry DeYoung, Keith Dow and Dan Vander Plaats
This easy-to-read book functions as a “go-to-guide” providing some basic step-by-step instructions for disability inclusion. It is very simple and practical in its approach and covers a variety of areas including ministry to people with physical impairments, developmental disabilities, aging stresses (for example Alzheimer’s and dementia) and mental illness. Definitely a great resource for both church and para-church organizations, for pastors, professors, and lay people. (Also available in Korean: 통합 안내서, 장애 옹호인들을 위한 자원

A Compassionate Journey by John Cook

A Compassionate Journey: Coming Alongside People with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses, by John G. Cook, guides readers in the practice of compassion and provides a helpful perspective on caring in the face of long-term need. That makes this book ideal for study by church councils, care teams, adult education groups, and individuals who want to learn how to show care to people with long-term needs. Available from Faith Alive Christian Resources

Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities by Barbara Newman
Special education teacher Barb Newman provides a much-needed how-to manual that equips teachers, church activity leaders, and kids with such gems as information for understanding children with special needs, guidelines for churches, and devotions for families. To access a free sample chapter, visit Helping Kids Include Kids….With Autism

Autism and the Church: Nurturing the Spiritual Growth of People with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Barbara Newman

This revised and updated edition of a trusted resource will help your church welcome people with autism into the full life of your congregation.

Changing Attitudes about Disability by Dan Vander Plaats
Vander Plaats discusses different attitudes we may have about disability and provides multiple resources on how to move along the pendulum from ignorance, to pity, to caring, to friendship, and ultimately, to co-labouring, where we find ourselves in rich reciprocal relationships with disabled people that enables both of us to fulfill our God-given callings.

Disability and Inclusive Communities by Kevin Timpe
Kevin, a professor of philosophy at Calvin University, presents the case for inclusion, aided by the voices of people with disabilities. “In just over an hour (which is all the time it took me read “Disability and Inclusive Communities”), author Kevin Timpe introduced me to brothers and sisters in Christ who have every reason to reject the church, yet have not. Instead, their rejection has often come from the church itself. This ought not be the case. This is a must-read for any Christian who believes the church has figured out inclusion and disability. It will make you mad, ashamed, repentant, and hopeful. Reading it prompted me toward, as Timpe suggests, “radical and deliberate reorientation of our communities.” I pray that God will use this lean but compelling manuscript to begin a redemptive reorientation of our churches and society.” – Dan Vander Plaats, Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services 

Same Lake, Different Boat by Steph Hubach

When it comes to people with disability, however, we often act like we’re in different lakes. Disability can seem frightening, abnormal—or even irrelevant to those who do not experience it. But Stephanie Hubach argues that there is a better way to think of disability, a better way to understand the challenges facing those touched by disability, and a better way to understand the role of the church in the lives of people with differing abilities. She pinpoints what is true about disability, in contrast to common secular views, and what we need to rethink and relearn in order to support one another and make God’s kingdom truly accessible to all.

Disability and the Gospel by Michael Beates
A biblical, comprehensive yet condensed and very approachable, look at the theology of disability.

Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship by Barbara Newman
A fantastic, practical approach to making the 8 vertical habits of worship usable for individuals of all ages and abilities.

Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving by Lorna Bradley
A great small group study for those raising children with special needs of all ages. Great questions for discussion with a biblical perspective.

Building Community, Practical  Ways to Build Inclusive for People Who Are Vulnerable by Cara Milne www.mpoweredplanning.com
A great hands-on guide for anyone contemplating any kind of relationship with those who have disabilities. I love the flow of the chapters….from first conversation to lasting relationships!

Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families Editors: Robert H. Albers, William H. Meller, Steven D. Thurber
The language of creation replaces, and transcends, the language of loss, just as it does in life. The pastoral care-giver’s question is not, “What have you lost? But “What’s it like?” and “What’s happening?”

The Spiritual Art of Raising Children With Disabilities by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc 
Invites readers to join her on a spiritual journey that begins with the shattering pain of asking questions that cannot be answered and continue toward new creation and new community.

Mental Health: A Guide for Faith Leaders and its companion, Quick Reference on Mental Health for Faith LeadersThe Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership
This guide provides information to help faith leaders work with members of their congregations and their families who are facing mental health challenges.

A Day in the Life by Bev Roozeboom 
This book gives a glimpse into the chaos and hope of families with children living in the grip of chronic mental health disorders.

Turning Barriers into Bridges: The Inclusive Use of Information and Communication Technology for Churches in America, Britain, and Canada by Dr. John Jay Frank
Presents biblical, legal, and cultural reasons for making church communications accessible, and it provides specific guidelines to do so.

Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities by Erik W. Carter 
An excellent read based on solid research and practical application.

Autism and the God Connection: Redefining the Autistic Experience Through Extraordinary Accounts of Spiritual Giftedness by William Stillman
A parents’ view of Autism from a faith perspective. 

Too Wise to Be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind by Cathy Steere
Christian parents and their perspective on Autism. 

Feathers from Heaven by Denise Briley
A parent’s view of disability from a faith perspective. 

Dancing with Max:A Mother and Son Who Broke Free by Emily Colson
A mother’s perspective of the gifts and struggles of disability from a faith perspective. 

No Ordinary Boy by Jennifer Johannesen
The story of a Canadian family and their son Owen. 

Adam, God’s Beloved by Henri J. Nouwen
In his final book, Nouwen shares the spiritual lessons he learned from a young man with disabilities. 

Immeasurably More: More Hope, More Joy: Embracing Life with Down Syndrome by Linda Aalderink
A book about embracing life with Down syndrome. 

Disability and Spirituality: Recovering Wholeness by William C. Gaventh 
An overview of the historical and contemporary developments within the area of spirituality and disability. 

Caring and Covenant: Notes on a Sacramental Ecclesiology of Disability by Walker Michael

Christians with and without disabilities can most clearly care for each other in covenantal relationships, faithful and loving connections that help us grow. These compassionate encounters can empower us to become what one theologian calls “catholic personalities,” people open to authentically encountering all others. 

Spirit and the Politics of Disablement by Sharon V. Betcher

In this remarkable and incisive work, Sharon Betcher analyzes our world and God’s embodied presence in the light of her own disability and the insight it affords. She claims disablement as a site of powerful social and religious critique and reflection.

Copious Hosting: a Theology of Access for People with Disabilities by Jennie Weiss Block 

This book aims to do two things: to acquaint church and synagogue leaders with the history and philosophy of the disability movement and to provide resources from scripture and theology for thinking and preaching about disability in a new way.

My Body is Not a Prayer Request by Amy Kenny

Much of the church has forgotten that we worship a disabled God whose wounds survived resurrection, says Amy Kenny. It is time for the church to start treating disabled people as full members of the body of Christ who have much more to offer than a miraculous cure narrative and to learn from their embodied experiences. 

Reinders, Hans S. Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Vulnerable Communion: a Theology of Disability and Hospitality by Thomas E. Reynolds

Reynolds argues that the Christian story is one of strength coming from weakness, of wholeness emerging from brokenness, and of power in vulnerability. He offers valuable biblical, theological, and pastoral tools to understand and welcome those with disabilities. Vulnerable Communion will be a useful resource for any student, theologian, church leader, or layperson seeking to discover the power of God revealed through weakness.
The Question of Access: Disability, Space, Meaning by Tanya Tichkosky

Through narratives of struggle and analyses of policy and everyday practices, Tanya Titchkosky shows how interpretations of access reproduce conceptions of who belongs, where and when. Titchkosky examines how the bureaucratization of access issues has affected our understanding of our lives together in social space. Representing ‘access’ as a beginning point for how disability can be rethought, rather than as a mere synonym for justice, The Question of Access allows readers to critically question their own implicit conceptions of disability, non-disability, and access.
Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimaging Disability in Late Modernity by Amos Yong

While the struggle for disability rights has transformed secular ethics and public policy, traditional Christian teaching has been slow to account for disability in its theological imagination. Amos Yong crafts both a theology of disability and a theology informed by disability. The result is a Christian theology that not only connects with our present social, medical, and scientific understanding of disability but also one that empowers a set of best practices appropriate to our late modern context.