Anglican Parish: Trinidad & Tobago
Contributed by Ashton Gomez
Within our Caribbean context, some have said that we are a people found to be warm, energetic and inviting. While this may be true to some extent it would be wrong of me to say that this goes across the board. The people of the Caribbean have not been as open to dealing with issues that affect people living with disabilities. We have found ourselves in a world where politically correct language has begun to change our attitude towards people with disabilities. We are a developing nation and therefore many of the hurdles that we face are attitudinal and not necessarily that of resources.
Most places of worship do not cater to people with disabilities because for a very long time it has not been at the forefront of our psyche. I suppose that it has been inculcated into us that being born with a disability or developing a disability later in life, is some sort of punishment or generational curse that is being meted out by God for sins committed
I place this preamble here to present a context that is a reality within the Caribbean in varying degrees. It is slowly being dismantled through education and influences from other parts of the world.
Bearing all that was said above this would be the procedures that I would adopt for the congregation in which I serve.
Plan for forming a welcoming committee
1. Educating the members of our current welcoming committee with a better definition of who may be considered to be a person that has a disability. The range of which can be mild that it may appear that the person is not impaired in any way to the extreme that they may not be able to help themselves but nevertheless to ensure that the dignity of the person remains intact at all times. To assist in educating we shall seek the help of the Government as they have many persons with the professional insight to help us with the proper terms and skills that would be necessary to implement a functional team to meet the needs of an ever diverse community. This partnership will also allow us to access grants for modification of the church where it may be necessary to create a safe and welcoming environment for new members.
2. Sensitization of the congregation – this will be done to reduce and eventually remove the idea that disability is a taboo subject and that people that are living with a disability can contribute to the life of the church. It will also allow for prejudice to be dealt with and for “uncomfortable” questions to be addressed. We will have to involve the congregation in having an input as to how we can adjust the worship space to make persons will disabilities feel that they belong and that by being there they are are not seen or treated in an uncharitable way.
3. Implementation – after the training, sensitization and becoming educated on the different levels of disability we should;
a. Greet everyone so that no one feels that they are being treated differently from anyone else, that we would speak clearly and at a rate that is not too fast or use words that only a few may understand.
b. Have seats or spaces available in varying areas of the worship space that can be accessed by a wheelchair or one using aids for walking. It is not yet a common practice for persons who are blind to use guide dogs, this is another instance of how culture impacts upon how we function as a society.
c. Members of the welcoming committee should bring to the attention of another member of the committee any feelings of discomfort when carrying out their duty, this, however, should be done discreetly so as not to make a new member that may have a disability feel unwanted or unwelcome.
d. Introduce reading material for worship in larger print for those who have reduced vision, proper working sound system for those with diminishing hearing and an interpreter for those who are hearing impaired. Some of these issues can be dealt with under training so that new skills can be developed to make an even greater connection.
e. When inviting new members, we should find out if they would need any special assistance and also ask existing members who are differently-abled to be a part of the committee to better interpret the ways in which we can improve our hospitality to others that are differently-abled.
4. Monthly committee meetings will be scheduled to continue the assessment of what has been implemented, what may need to change and what we may need to do differently. Above all members will need to be reminded that the work will always need to be improved as we go along and may encounter new challenges.
Catholic Parish Church: Mzuzu Catholic. Malawi
Contributed by Fr. Austin Ndowera
Inclusive celebrations are becoming so common in our churches. There are greater numbers of Christians with disabilities coming for worship these days. Transitioning Christians with disabilities from self-contained special worship to inclusive general worship in our churches here in Africa (Malawi) is not an overnight process. It requires thoughtful planning. Training, appropriate Christian supports, resources, personnel, and a meaningful individual educational program need to exist prior to the new church placement.
It’s also important to remember that if the Christian with disabilities has never experienced an inclusive worship, then chances are, neither has his or her fellow Christians. Christians in the general worship service might be curious about the situation, may feel anxious about having a Christian with disabilities in our churches here, or have misconceptions about Christians with disabilities. In my country here and especially in the parish I am working, we are far behind, I should admit.
Sometimes we intentionally avoid conversations with people with disabilities, citing ‘fear of causing offence’, ‘feeling uncomfortable’, or ‘not knowing what to talk about’ as the main reasons we worry about.
Here are some tips that I will have to help facilitate a smooth transition for Christians with disabilities to inclusive church worship.
Tips to facilitate a smooth Transition (Via the Committee of Inclusion)
- Establishing Basic Principles. Establish general concepts about Christians with and without disabilities through small Christian Community discussions. Primarily, I will help the Christians that:
- Everyone wants to belong and be included
- Everyone is different
- Everyone has areas of strengths and areas of weaknesses
- Letting Christians share. Christians will be given an opportunity to talk about themselves, their strengths and interests You should allow others to ask questions. (I will make sure I talk about the types of questions that can be asked prior to the activity.)
- Dispelling Myths. You should dis-spell any myths and misunderstandings about students with disabilities. Most importantly:
- That there are disabilities that you can see and some that you can’t;
- That physical disability does not determine a person’s intelligence; and
- That people with disabilities are people first.
- Addressing Challenges. Address Christians’-specific issues that are important for the church members to know about in order to interact and learn alongside each other. For example, if a Christian has an allergy, you should invite a practician in to talk about allergies and the importance of keeping products that make people so out. If a Christian with disabilities communicates with a parent, you should ask the parent to give a demonstration.
- Talking About the People We Know with a Disability. Point out that we all live, shop, drive and work beside a person with a disability at some point in our life.
- Highlighting Famous People. Identify famous people with disabilities and highlight their contributions to society not as a source of inspiration but as an important to human growth.
- Giving Disability Awareness Lessons
. Provide an opportunity for Christians to become more understanding of people with disabilities by giving disability awareness lessons.
- Making A Positive Church Community. Establish and maintain a positive church community throughout the entire year. Encourage respect for one another, the use of appropriate language, and proactive social skills.
It will also be important to remind the community that discretion should be used when discussing the needs of Christians with disabilities with others. A conversation with the Christian prior to any of the above strategies can determine how comfortable the Christian is with sharing information about his or her disabilities. The sharing of information is not meant to put the Christian with disabilities “exposed”, but help others understand what the Christian needs in order to participate and participate well in a place of worship.
Ste-Thérèse Chapel: Canada
Contributed by Chantal Brien
To document the results of a review of the availability of accessibility accommodations at the Ste-Thérèse Chapel.
Ste-Thérèse Chapel is part of the Roman Catholic Military Ordinariate in Canada. The Parish is located on Canadian Forces Base Bagotville and shares a facility with the local Protestant community. The bulk of the community is made up of military members and their families, although civilian community members are welcome to, and do, attend. In general, the community is highly transient and attendees vary week to week with deployments and other military duties resulting in members being away unexpectedly. As a result, the community relies on everyone to welcome newcomers instead of having scheduled ushers.
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Main Entry – Driveway|
|Result||While there is a separate driveway to a properly constructed ramp, there is minimal signage to indicate how newcomers who use mobility aids should access the driveway and ramp.|
|Comment||Given that part of the access is unidirectional for vehicle traffic, this could be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the parish and make them feel unwelcome.|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Main Entry – Parking|
|Result||While there is vehicle access to the ramp to the building, the parking lot is down a hill|
|Comment||This could present an obstacle to a person who uses a mobility aid who wishes to drive independently to mass. Additional parking should be added during the upcoming renovation.|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Seating|
|Result||There are limited options for seating for people who use wheelchairs|
|Comment||Increasing the number of places where people who use wheelchairs could sit would allow them the same choice as other parishioners and allow them to participate fully|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Confession|
|Result||The space where the priest offers Reconciliation is often up a curved set of stairs. With no elevator or chair lift, this presents a barrier to access to anyone who uses a mobility aid|
|Comment||When completed, the planned building expansion project should make the office spaces, and consequently confession, more accessible|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Bathroom|
|Result||The washroom has been designed to meet modern accessibility standards and is spacious enough to allow a power chair to turn|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Parish Hall|
|Result||While the space itself has been designed to allow people who use wheelchairs to move about freely, the doors are heavy and don’t have buttons to open them. Additionally, there is a lip that could impede access for someone with a wheelchair or rollator|
|Comment||Retrofit of wheelchair buttons should be addressed during upcoming renovations|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Sacristy|
|Result||There are stairs that prevent people using wheelchairs or other mobility aids from accessing this area|
|Comment||When completed, the planned building expansion project should make the sacristy more accessible|
|Evaluation Point||Assistive Listening Devices – Nave|
|Result||There is a sound system that is consistently used during mass that would allow people who are Deaf/deaf or hard of hearing to use assistive devices.|
|Comment||According to Veteran’s Affairs Canada, hearing loss is either the first or second most common disability in all age categories of veterans. Given the population served by this parish, this is a critical accommodation to maintain. While physical infrastructure is in place, there are weeks where this system cannot be fully used by those present due to lack of knowledge.|
|Evaluation Point||Assistive Listening Devices – Parish Hall|
|Result||There is not a sound system for the parish hall|
|Comment||Given how common hearing loss is within the community, this is a significant issue. Additionally, since this is where children’s programs are conducted, this may present a barrier to inclusion for children who wish to participate in religious instruction.|
|Evaluation Point||Large Print Texts|
|Result||There are large print texts available, but as this is a shared space, materials used by the Catholic community must be put away between masses. If the people setting up each Sunday don’t know that these exist, they won’t be sought out and placed within reach by the community|
|Comment||This could be improved by developing and making available a setup checklist or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)|
|Evaluation Point||Text to Speech Programs|
|Result||Due to the transient nature of the community, an electronic bulletin board is used to communicate changes and announcements from week to week. Many of the announcements are created as text overlaid on an image and then published as an image. This process could render the information inaccessible to anyone using text to speech technology. (e.i. Screen readers)|
|Comment||This could be improved by developing and making available a standardized procedure that ensures that all announcements are formatted to be accessible to persons using text to speech technology|
|Evaluation Point||Sensory Barriers – Scents|
|Result||While it is possible to accommodate people who are sensitive to strong scents, or who experience breathing difficulties when exposed to incense, the knowledge of how to implement this accommodation is not common to all who attend the parish|
|Comment||This barrier to access to be ameliorated by educating the parish|
|Evaluation Point||Sensory Barriers – Reduced Stimulus|
|Result||While it is possible to accommodate people who tolerate bright lights and loud noises poorly, not everyone knows that the space is available|
|Comment||This barrier to access to be ameliorated by educating the parish|
|Evaluation Point||Ride Share Program|
|Result||The community is very supportive of assisting with transport arrangements and is used to offering carpooling to injured parishioners. That said, this is arranged on an ad hoc basis and a prospective member of the community has no way of knowing that this support exists|
|Comment||This barrier could be removed by making mention of the rideshare program on the parish website|
Broadly speaking, the barriers to full access at Ste-Thérèse Chapel fall into two general categories:
- Barriers for which an accommodation already exists but that may not be consistently available due to knowledge deficits; and
- Architectural and structural barriers, many of which should be resolved during planned renovations.
As there is currently a plan to undertake renovations to better allow the physical space to accommodate persons with disabilities, the next area of focus should be training and procedures to address knowledge barriers. Fixing these will allow Ste-Thérèse Chapel to improve access to everyone who might wish to join the parish.
St Benedict’s Parish, Ealing Abbey: London, UK
Contributed by Daniel Ferguson
We face a challenging time in society where, as Cristina Gangemi says, “the disabled person’s life has never been more in danger.” She says, [Society] “is seeking to develop the perfect human person.” This renders the life of the disabled as something mechanistic. Oftentimes the response of many in Society is to see those with disabilities as weaker and their lives of less value. This has resulted in the disabled person’s life is at risk of abortion in the womb. In the UK, the only factor allowing parents to get a full-term abortion at 40 weeks gestation is for reasons of fatal disability. The paradox is that disabled people are protected by legislation that deems them “an equal and valued human being.”
Our Church teaching stands opposed to this. In fact, our stance is juxtaposed. We see all life as a gift and our protection of all stems from the equal dignity given to every individual by God. St Paul’s words pierce the misconception of Society when he says “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Corinthians 12:22). People with disabilities are often cut off from the Society’s body but in Christ’s body “they are indispensable.” We see in Jesus the reaching out to the marginalized and weak in order to call all back to love, back to himself, and to full participation in his life. Jesus shows us that the seemingly weaker members of society actually have a huge amount to teach us. We come to learn more from them than they from us.
According to Canon Law, there is a genuine equality of dignity among all of Christ’s faithful. This means that all people, in whatever capacity they are able to participate, build up the Body of Christ. (Code of Canon Law, 208).
In our English context, we take guidance from the pastoral document produced by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales called Valuing Difference. This document provides practical advice for promoting measures that allow the full participation of every individual. The document reminds us that we are all created in the image of God, with our own particular gifts. Our task, as members of the Church, is to translate Christ’s clear message of inclusion into practical inclusion, so that the contribution of each member is respected and nurtured. “Active participation needs to be accessible to all.” (page 3), because, “Part of the body of Christ is missing when any individual is excluded from Church life.” (Part 2, p.9).
Aim of Seminar Paper
Society often sees no or little value in the weakest. The Church’s teaching is clear on the dignity rendered to all by God. However, the Church faces the practical challenge of how best to serve those with disabilities. We must come to a point where we see disabled people with the eyes of God. It is God’s paradox that the physically weakest amongst us our oftentimes the strongest spiritually. The physically weak have much to teach us. We must be rooted in the conviction that our brothers and sisters with learning disabilities are indispensable parts of Christ’s Body. This conviction must bear fruit in practical tools to help the members of our communities who seem weaker to participate fully. They should have their rightful place in the very heart of the Church.
In this seminar, I will focus on the task of establishing procedures for welcoming new members, including members with disabilities. I will be looking to develop an overarching training resource for key Parishioners that will transform the way our Parish sees newcomers to our community.
About our Parish
Overall Parish Goal
Bring about full participation of people with disabilities in the life of the Church and the full participation of the Church in the lives of people with disabilities
- Form a team of people from different areas of Parish life. Including at least one current Parishioner with a disability
- Brainstorm ideas of how to reach all Parishioners in order to welcome and acquire their needs and desires (as not all disabilities are visible to others)
- Put in the place the practical means of reaching out to new members of the community to acquire their views
- Form a plan that is shaped by the feedback and not by any preconceived notions of what is required
We want our Church to:
- Acknowledge the person as a whole (Spiritually, Physically, Emotionally, Socially, Intellectually).
- Have a response to people in need that is one of love and mercy.
- Have this response come not from feeling sorry for individuals but from recognizing their participation in the body of Christ.
- See all people with the eyes of Christ.
- Create an atmosphere that is accessible and welcoming to all so everyone feels like they belong.
- Be a missional Church that engages with persons with disabilities and a missional Church who is engaged by people with disabilities.
- Put an end to isolation and disconnectedness of persons with disabilities and their families.
- Nurture the spiritual lives of people with disabilities.
- Encourage the gifts of people with disabilities so they can serve God fully and by extension serve the people around them (as the disabled people have their missionary calling too).
Religious Community: Rome, Italy
Contributed by Sr. Gemma Tenedero Benavidez
The usual barrier of inclusion for disabilities is people tend to look at their physical defects rather than their capacity to do things. Some people easily look at others by their appearances. I believe everyone is born with innate talents and along the way of life, we discover our skills regardless of our state of life. However In Discovering one’s talents and skills can be quite difficult. For me, it took many years to find out that I can play musical instruments. It was only inside the convent I discovered my talents and skills. More so helping others to find their talents and skills can be extremely difficult to figure out. However, some people discover their talents at a very early age while others remain hidden and never discovered thus those persons have no opportunity to find his talent and no one helps them or encourages them. So they need others for guidance to help them to find out their skills and talents. In my contribution, I chose the last activity “If a person with disabilities is going to participate in one of your groups, focus on discovering their different skills and identifying ways they could contribute those gifts.”
Guide for Discovering their skills and talents such as:
- The community should always give time to follow and meet the newest members of the group to establish a good relationship and get to know them. Also to discover what is the good points of the person and also their weakness.
- The community should be aware of their likes and dislikes. Be mindful always the activity where they enjoy most. In this area of their life, we can help them identify their capability rather than their disability.
- The community should ask during the meeting who are interested in some particular task. Try to delegate them in some areas of responsibility. For example to learn musical instruments or doing art etc. Or ask who wants to sing the responsorial psalms or who wants to be a lector or commentator. Explaining to them that everyone is encouraged to participate for God’s glory. No one is exempted in spite of their disabilities.
- The community should always affirm them. Little things that they do affirm them. When they fail, encourage them. Explaining to them that these great things in the eyes of God. The purity of intention is always important never mind if they commit a mistake.
- The community will try to challenge them. Be creative. For example singing contest. However, remind them that the competition is just for recreation not to compete with one another. Then give them a reward who is the best as well the other contestants for their participation.
- Always nurture their spiritual life. Explaining to them that it is essential to share their talents and skills because this is a part of their mission here on earth to make others happy and also for the enrichment of their soul as well as their contribution to the society. Through this others get inspired to them in spite of their disabilities.
Upon working on this paper, I came to realize and asked questions, why our congregation did not give the opportunity to reach out to people with disabilities? I know that every religious institution has its own charism. Like we Dominican, most of our apostolates are in the school, but I think this an opportunity to reach out to people with disabilities. This is a challenge for our congregation now a day. I know there are some religious institutions who also taking care of people with disabilities. Thanks for their dedication to the apostolate.
Note: My experience of implementing or planning the activity in my community was extremely difficult. Why? As I have shared before during the conference, I have never encountered people with disabilities. I feel guilty and ashamed of myself. It’s sad I myself a religious member of a congregation should be the first one to help them and support them. But now where I am? Just staying inside the four walls of the convent. Honestly, it was really hard for me to finish this assignment because my contribution was not realistic it was just a matter of imagination. So it was difficult to figure out things which are not real. Thank you for this seminar that awakening my mind. I hope someday in God’s time our congregation will open this kind of apostolate not only concentrating in school. Who knows? I believed that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps now I don’t understand why I enrolled in this subject.
Sacred Heart Catholic Parish: Waltham, MA United States
Contributed by Sr. Mira Taurannang
Establish procedures for welcoming new members, including members with disabilities
Discuss your experience implementing or planning the activity in your community
I was impressed with the positive response I received from my parish community when I asked whether they have their/any procedures in place for welcoming new members, including members with disabilities. According to my parish pastor, Rev. Father Dennis Wheatley OFM, the parish has always been welcoming to anyone regardless of where they come from, their age or their abilities. He put extra emphasis on parish policies especially when it comes to people with disabilities. The Parish has different groups that are active in the life of the parish like the Knights of Columbus and St. Claire’s prayer group to name some. The new members are encouraged to join these groups if they want to – it is up to the new members to take part in the activities of the parish. The parish has different events/activities that welcomed every parishioner to take part/join. At the Parish church, there are priority seats reserved at (front rows) for people with wheelchairs, ramps at the parish hall and church. Lastly, there are rails for elderly people or for those who wished to use rails.
Listening to Father’s sharing on the life of the parish, I get the impression that the five procedures I proposed (see the infographic) have already been put into place in all areas of the life of the parish. The first step I suggest is to “Establish a welcoming committee,” this committee consists of few designated parishioners who are responsible for taking care and making sure that the new members, including members with disabilities, are welcomed and included into the faith community. This welcoming committee works very closely with the parish pastor. The new members are encouraged to fill in a form that is available at the parish office for their information, contacts, etc.
The second and third steps would be a challenge to carry out since it really needs a lot of attention, patience and energy, though it would not be a barrier. “Listen/pay attention to the needs of new members, including members with disabilities” and “Discover new members’ talents and gifts.” Listening is really a gift to have and it takes a while to master it. It demands a person to fully engage in conversation or dialogue not only with a listening ear rather, a listening heart. However, the parish has assigned some people who have expertise in helping young adults or even families who have problems. Individuals or families can be free to share in this space knowing that someone is willing to listen to them with a compassionate heart without judgement.
“Include children with disabilities in CCD Classes and prayers groups” is the fourth step, which emphasizes on Catechesis. The parish already has a special program in place to answer to the needs of children/adults with disabilities. For example; the CCD Classes – once a month, the Parish has what it called an “autistic teaching mass” formed especially for autistic children to teach them about the symbols used during the mass. These children also have special large print hymn books and other materials accessible for their needs.
Lastly, the fifth step, which is really about, “getting involved, participation and contribution,” in the life of the parish/faith community. This is the ultimate goal of the whole project of including new people into our places of worship. The new members first, should feel the sense of being welcomed and accepted into the faith/parish community. If only the needs are met in the first four steps that the fifth step can take root in the life of the new members, including members with disabilities. Each member of a faith community has a part to play. We are always challenged to open wide our doors to welcome new members and people who are different from us.
First and most importantly, a faith community should be open to the new members, including members with disabilities with understanding and without judgment. Barriers could be hindrances to this openness. However, each community member is challenged to step up and change his/her attitude towards people with disabilities. The needs of individuals vary according to their disability(ies), therefore, there should be programs put in place to cater to the needs of the new members, especially members with disabilities. The faith community will need to be prepared to individualize programs to meet the needs of an individual, teach the beliefs/faith in a language that they understand, for example; a braille or large print books for the visually impaired, and to promote participation within the congregation. These are some areas that I plan to implement into the parish/faith community programs. There is a lot to be done in regards to people with disabilities; however, each parish/faith community needs to play its role at every level, locally, nationally and internationally in promoting inclusiveness and accessibility. Therefore, an inclusive community of faith requires commitment and participation of the full community.