If you were born fifty years ago with any kind of birth defect, or either developed a disability during young adolescent or later years, more than likely, you’d be cast into an institution or locked up in your home. However, today because of laws created to protect the rights of people with disabilities, communities have become a source of life, support and strength. Listed below is information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Positive Language in addressing people with disabilities and the seven major disability groups:
The World Health Organization reports 161 million people in the world who are blind and have low vision of which 25.5 million are adult Americans. Losses of vision vary in degree. Many people who are considered “blind” may have some sight. People with visual disabilities may consider their blindness or vision problems an inconvenience rather than a disability. Positive etiquette with people who have visual disabilities include the following:
- Speak the person’s name to get their attention and introduce yourself
- Introduce anyone who is with you and give pertinent information about them
- When conversing in a group, say the name of the person you are speaking to
- Speak in normal tones. Do not shout or speak in condescending tones
- When shaking hands, make a verbal reference, “Hello. Let me shake your hand.”
- Describe materials being discussed or distributed to a group that includes a person who is blind
- Inform the person when you are leaving
- Do not pat a guide dog (service animal) in harness. It is working
- When guiding, extend your elbow (rather than your hand)
- Give verbal clues to what is ahead (e.g., steps, curb, doors, etc.)
- Resource materials in large print, easy English or Braille
- Offer audio tapes of church service or other meetings (when available)
- Improve lighting in sanctuary, bathrooms, hallways and other access rooms
- Produce bulletins and other materials distributed to the congregation in large print
Cane for the Blind
Christian Record Services
Christian Record Services provides free Christian publications and programs for people with visual impairments.
American Printing House for the Blind
NAD Disability Ministries provides additional resources for Disability Ministries coordinators.
Care Ministries, Inc
Care Ministries offers a variety of services to people who are blind or visually impaired.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation & Johns Hopkins University reported in 2004 that 10% of Americans have a medical condition which could be considered an invisible disability. There are many disabilities that are not apparent when casually interacting with an individual. Invisible disabilities include chronic illnesses such as chronic pain and chronic fatigue, mental illness, chronic dizziness, renal failure, diabetes, and sleep disorders — if those diseases significantly impair normal activities of daily living. Noticeable indictors may include staggering of walk (gait), slowness, hesitancy in speech or walking, etc. 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with an illness that is invisible. Positive etiquette for people with hidden disability includes the following:
- Be patient and sensitive
- Be courteous
- Ask for assistance before greeting: hugging or shaking hands
- Find suitable activities of involvement for service
- Lend assistance when a member is participating. Ask first
- Educate congregation on various disabilities
- Conduct a church survey to determine the needs of people with disabilities in the church
- Encourage the person with a chronic disability to advocate on behalf of others
Invisible Disabilities Association
The Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA) encourages, educates and connects people and organizations touched by illness, pain and injury around the globe.
Rest Ministries, Inc. is a non-profit organization that serves people who live with chronic illness or pain, & their families, by providing spiritual, emotional, relational, & practical support through a variety of programs & resources.
In 2005, the SIPP (Survey of Income and Program Participation) reported that 1 in 20 Americans are currently deaf or hard of hearing (with 10 million persons hard of hearing and close to 1 million functionally deaf). More than half of all persons with hearing loss or deafness are 65 years or older and less than 4% are under 18 years of age.Hearing losses range from mild to severe and influence the way a person communicates. People who are deaf do not consider themselves to be disabled, rather, they are a culture. Only 20% can understand lip-reading. American Sign Language is an official language for the deaf. Positive etiquette for persons who have hearing disabilities include the following:
- If the person is deaf, tap them on the shoulder or arm to get their attention
- Look at the person rather than the interpreter (if present)
- Don’t cover your mouth while speaking
- Speak at a moderate pace. Do not exaggerate your words
- If an interpreter isn’t available, use pen and paper to communicate
- Reduce background noises when conversing
- Call your state relay service to make contact with a person who is deaf and has a TDD or TTY system in their home
- Speak directly to the relay service operator who will type your words to the person you are calling
- Provide front row seating for the interpreter and the person who is deaf.
- Provide a certified sign interpreter for church service or special meetings
- Purchase assistive listening devices (ALDs) for those who are hard of hearing
Sign Language Interpreter
Southern Deaf Fellowship
Organized in 2005 as the first deaf church for Seventh-day Adventists and provides sermons in ASL.
Three Angels Deaf Ministry
A nonprofit ministry focused on sharing Jesus with deaf people, nurturing deaf members, and education those who hear about deaf ministry and interacting with deaf people.
1.6 million people in the U.S. today utilize a wheelchair, and millions of others use walkers, scooters, canes, braces or other devices as aids to movement — making this the most visible of all disabilities. Mobility disabilities can stem from a wide range of causes and be permanent, intermittent or temporary. Assistance may vary depending on the severity of the disability. Using a wheelchair doesn’t always mean that people cannot walk short distances. Positive etiquette with people who have a mobility disability include the following:
- Sit, when possible, in order to be make eye contact with the person
- Speak directly to the person and do not shout or speak in condescending or patronizing tones
- Ask before assisting
- Listen to instructions first before assisting a person with a mobility disability. Make sure the person is ready before you assist. Walk at a normal pace
- Do not move the wheelchair, crutches, walker or cane out of reach from the person who is utilizing them (if they are seated in a pew).
- Designate 12’6” wide disabled parking spaces
- Build a ramp (if necessary) to church entrance with curbcuts to door thresholds
- Install firm carpeting and reduce floor slickness
- Adapt a bathroom (raised toilet seats, grab bars, lower sink – faucet and towel dispenser, and mirror)
- Provide an accessible drinking fountainShorten several pews throughout the congregation (scattered) so a person who utilizes a wheelchair can fit into the “row” (not the aisle) and sit with his/her family/friends.
Joni and Friends
Joni and Friends is about advancing disability ministry and changing the church and communities around the world
The Wheelchair Foundation is a nonprofit organization leading an international effort to create awareness of the needs and abilities of people with physical disabilities, to promote the joy of giving, create global friendship, and to deliver a wheelchair to every child, teen and adult in the world who needs one, but cannot afford one.
The Presidents Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities reported there are 8 million Americans of all ages that have some level of intellectual and developmental disabilities. People with this disability have significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which may have occurred at birth, in childhood or before 18 years of age. These conditions include spinal cord injury, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. People with intellectual disability may have advanced intellectual skills but limited speech and social, or physical function. 70% of people with developmental disabilities also have mental retardation. Positive etiquette with people who have developmental disability include the following:
- Talk to the person directly, not through a companion or family member
- Be patient. Give instructions one at a time
- Don’t be condescending or patronizing
- Provide opportunities for participation in church activities by giving simple basic tasks:
-Example: Distributing bulletins and other materials to the congregation
- Find concrete ways to assist before, during and after church service
-Assign a peer aide to assist during services.
-Offer an older child the opportunity to assist with younger children – cutting and pasting projects, reading, and straightening the room.
- Visit home first to establish a relationship with the family
- Offer respite care for the family or caregiver
- Train members, class teachers and students on offering support, guidance and direction
Bethesda Lutheran Ministries Communities
Bethesda Lutheran Ministries mission is to enhance the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through services that share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Friendship Ministries is a non-profit organization that helps churches and organizations around the world share God’s love with people who have intellectual disabilities.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults in the U.S. (approximately 57.7 million Americans experience a mental health disorder in a given year. The World Health Organization reports four of the ten leading causes of disability in the world are mental disorders and by 2020 major depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children. Mental illness usually strikes individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood.
Mental illness is a term defined as severe disturbances in thinking, feeling, and/or relating. Onset factors may include genetics/heredity, stress, recreational drug use, imbalance from some illnesses, and side effects from certain medications (i.e., steroids, etc.) Positive etiquette for interacting with people who have a mental disability include the following:
- Become an active listener
- Avoid patronizing or condescending tones
- Be sensitive to physical touch – some may appreciate the caring, others may find it threatening
- Be prepared for anger that has no obvious basis
|When a person…||Then…|
|Has trouble with reality||Be simple, truthful|
|Is fearful||Stay calm|
|Is insecure||Be accepting|
|Has trouble concentrating||Be brief, repeat|
|Is overstimulated||Limit input|
|Becomes easily agitated||All the person to change|
|Has poor judgement||Don’t expect rational thinking|
|Is preoccupied||Get attention first|
|Is withdrawn||Initiate relevant conversation|
|Keeps changing plans||Keep to one plan|
|Believes delusions||Ignore, don’t argue|
|Has little empathy||Recognize as a symptom|
|Has low self esteem||Stay positive – encourage|
- Educate the congregation on mental illness (workshops and speakers from community mental health agencies)
- Provide training for ushers and greeters to know how to greet and support people with mental illness
- Train members in the congregation to act as companions during services
- Involve the pastor, head elder and church leaders in establishing a network of support for persons with mental illness in the church
- Have a referral list of community and area mental health agencies and work with providers when a member has a mental health disorder.
Mental Health Ministries
Mental Health Ministries has the vision of producing high quality resources to reduce the stigma of mental illness in our faith communities.
National Association of Mental Illness FaithNet
The National Association of Mental Illness FaithNet facilitates the development within the faith community of a non-threatening, supportive environment for those with serious mental illness and their families, points out the value of one’s spirituality in the recovery process from mental illness and the need for spiritual strength for those who are caretakers, educates clergy and congregations concerning the biologic basis and characteristics of mental illness, and encourages advocacy of the faith community to bring about hope and help for all who are affected by mental illness.
Pathways to Promise
Pathways to Promise is an interfaith technical assistance and resource center which offers liturgical and educational materials, program models, and networking information to promote a caring ministry with people with mental illness and their families.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 7.5 million people in the United States have trouble using their voices and 3 million Americans stutter. Disorders of the voice involve problems with pitch, loudness, and quality. Many people who have normal speaking skills have great difficulty communicating when their vocal apparatus fails. This can occur if the nerves controlling the larynx are impaired because of an accident, a surgical procedure, a viral infection, or cancer. Positive etiquette for interacting with people who have a mental disability include the following:
- Give whole, unhurried attention to the person who has difficulty speaking
- Rather than speak for the person, allow extra time and give help when needed
- When necessary, ask questions that require short answers or a nod or shake of the head
- Encourage the person with a speech disability to talk
- Keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting.
- If you have difficulty understanding, don’t pretend. Repeat as much as you do understand. The person’s reactions will guide you and clue you in
- Intercessory and private prayer
American Speech Language Hearing Association
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is the professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 145,000 members and affiliates who are speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists in the United States and internationally.
Federal Communications Commission – Speech to Speech Relay
Speech-To-Speech (STS) is a form of Relay Services that provides Communications Assistants (CAs) for people with speech disabilities who have difficulty being understood on the phone
National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders
The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders conducts and supports biomedical and behavioral research and research training in the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language.