Disabilities and the Church

How is the church meeting the needs of people with disabilities and their families? As a special educator, pastor’s wife, and most importantly mother of a daughter with Down Syndrome, I think of this question often.  Being a parent of a child with a disability can be challenging and often exhausting.  Some parents forgo attending church at all because they are weary and usually spend their time worried about their child’s needs being met during their time at church.  Church should be a respite to those who are weary.  Isaiah 40:29 tells us He gives strength to weary and increases the power of the weak.  What does a church need to look like to meet the needs of families with children with disabilities?  

The first thing is we need to look at how people with disabilities are being treated and represented in the church.  Are they being isolated from other church attenders? I believe all people with disabilities can be included and participate according to their abilities.  This might look like a someone just attending the first part of service with music, then a buddy taking them to an alternate area and interacting with them.  When you interact with anyone with a disability, use People First Language.  For example, my daughter is a girl with Down Syndrome.  Not she is Down Syndrome.  She is a person first before the disability.  Also, just because a person with a disability does not verbally communicate, does not mean they do not want to be interacted with. Greet them! Interact with them!  Show them they are valued!  

Second, how are you ministering and loving on parents or caregivers? We are not designed to do life alone.  A small group that allows caregivers to gather and celebrate their child’s exceptionalities and relate to one another in the process.  Offer respite nights for caregivers to refuel and focus on marriages or other relationships in their lives.  Do not ask a sibling to look after sister or brother while they are at church.  They often do this at home and need to have time with their peers.  
Lastly. How can these individuals serve the church? My daughter, who is in her late teens, has so much to offer our church.  She serves in pre-school ministry and sings in the choir.  She offers such purity in her worship when she sings a joyful noise to The Lord.  Others with special needs can be on welcoming team and pass out bulletins.  I would be instantly drawn to a church that had a person with a disability welcoming people.  That would show me how inclusive and welcoming they are to all people.  

People with disabilities are a blessing from The Lord! They can teach us more than we can ever teach them.  

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