Suggestions For Your Disability Awareness Sabbath

Helen Neinast described the importance of Disability Awareness in the UMC Interpreter Magazine:

“Disability Awareness…is both a celebration and a challenge. We celebrate the lives and witness of those with disabilities who contribute so much to our faith community. We also open ourselves, our churches, and the Church to the call of full inclusion and full accessibility for those with any disability – physical or mental.

If it were possible to gather all the people with disabilities into one nation, that nation would number 1 billion men, women, and children. That nation would be the world’s third largest country, after China and India. (W.H.O. statistics) That nation would have the least access to education…That nation would have the highest unemployment rate in the world and be the poorest nation on earth. It would have the least access to any sort of transportation. And it would be the least evangelized nation with the lowest proportion involved in a church.”

In I Corinthians 9:16-23 Paul describes his obligation to bring the gospel message of Jesus Christ to all people. We have the same obligation. Are we doing that when it comes to people with disabilities? Do we provide learning and study opportunities for children and adults with all types of learning needs? Does our church’s facility allow full access for all persons? Does our church consider those who use alternative formats to communicate (bulletins, Sabbath school lesson study, and sign interpreters.)?

Take the time and opportunity to celebrate Disability Awareness Sabbath in your congregation and challenge your church’s hospitality, sensitivity and inclusion towards all persons in the life of the church.

Step 1: Form a Committee

In order to build/develop a ministry for people with disabilities in your church, ask adults, youth and children with a disability, caregivers, departmental leaders, and members with a heart for the ministry.

Step 2: Involve your Church’s Leadership

Enlist the support and help of the Pastor, Personal Ministries Leader, the Elder assigned to your committee, Children’s and Women Ministries Leaders, Ushers and Hostesses, and Head Deacon.

Step 3: Develop your Awareness Day Plan

For your awareness Sabbath, your committee should establish a theme for the day. A draft outline could be as follows:

Sabbath School:

  • Mission Story – Have a personal testimony, or a story of a person with a disability.
  • Panel Session – Have people with different disabilities talk 3 minutes about their disability and how their faith has helped them.
  • Musical Selection – someone with a disability
  • Prayer – Opening/Closing

Personal Ministries Time:

  • Talking Points
  • Presentations
  • Media – Video clips/power point presentations

Divine Worship – Segments in the service for special attention are:

  • Call To Worship
  • Welcome/Remarks
  • Presentations
  • Scripture and Litany reading
  • Hymn of Praise
  • Music selections (person with a disability)
  • Sermon (Pastor or Guest Speaker).

Afternoon Program (not to include all of the following):

  • Workshop on specific disability (i.e., autism) and how it impacts the individual or family with a disability.
  • Guest presentations from community disability agencies (i.e., American Foundation for the Blind, etc.)
  • Youth Program (where youth/children do the program with skits, songs, poetry, readings, etc.)
  • Video presentation – (Nick Vujicic – Life Without Limbs, etc.). Be sure you have the proper license and clearances for showing any copyrighted videos.

Step 4: Church Building/Facilities

It doesn’t matter if your church is not accessible, however, you should know the spots that aren’t accessible, and have members there to assist. Conduct a basic checklist of your church’s parking lot and facilities for accessibility. Major areas of consideration are parking, ramp/stairs leading to entrance, front door threshold, bathrooms, seating inside the sanctuary (giving people who use wheelchairs a choice to sit in the front, middle or back), and the room where dinner will be served.

Also consider for that day printing large print bulletins (for seniors and people with vision problems), sign interpreters for deaf members/guests, and assistive listening devices for those with hearing loss.

Step 5: Transportation

If your church doesn’t have a van, solicit help from the deacons and interested members in picking up people with disabilities who don’t have transportation. For people who utilize wheel chairs, pay for specialized handicap service either through your town’s transportation system (handicap van), taxicab, or another church that has a handicap van.

Step 6: Ushers/Hostesses

Preparations for the day should include some guidance for the ushers and greeters. Meet with them at least one month to two weeks before your awareness Sabbath to share how they can assist. Remember: The first 30 seconds someone enters your doors will determine if he/she will return!

Step 8: Publicity

Disability Awareness Sabbath is a wonderful opportunity to invite people with disabilities, their families members and those with disabilities in the surrounding community. Publicity can be arranged through press releases to local newspapers and radio stations, letters to educational and day care facilities for people with disabilities, and disability/community organizations. Encourage the congregation to invite family, friends or neighbors with a disability.