Our Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Calgary are vibrant in their diversity and that includes people with disabilities. All disciples are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Including people with disabilities is not so much about doing things for them as it is about recognizing and cultivating their unique gifts and then helping them to share their gifts with the community so that they can be returned to God with increase. Here are six ways to include people with disabilities in the life of your parish.
- Ask rather than assume.
- See the person first, the disability second.
- Respond to your community.
- Be taught by the masters of problem-solving.
- Be not afraid.
- Receive God’s gifts with gratitude.
People with disabilities are often more able than we know. It is respectful to ask: What are your gifts? What are your limitations? What would make it possible for you to fulfil this ministry? Many of us want to help. Even though our hearts may be in the right place, we run the risk of being over–protective or condescending. Instead, ask directly if someone needs or wants your help.
Take the time to learn the person’s name and use it. Don’t replace the name of the person with the name of the condition. For example, it is better to say, “Bob has autism” rather than referring to Bob as, “that autistic boy.”
Do you have people with limited mobility, who cannot access the facilities or are being kept from ministries because they cannot access the ambo or the choir loft? If so, install a railing near the ambo or assign a server to assist with stairs. Is it possible to sometimes sing from a more accessible location or to bring the microphone to a lector? Are people in wheelchairs able to access all the facilities and is there a place for them in the assembly? Do you have any large print resources for those who are visually impaired or any parishioners who could communicate in sign language with those who are hearing impaired?
People with disabilities are masters of problem-solving, adaptation, and innovation. In that way, they often do things differently to accomplish the same goal. Take the time to learn from the person where the limitations lie and how to overcome them. Listen to their suggestions with an open heart and mind.
Don’t avoid inviting people with disabilities to serve in ministry out of fear that more challenges and problems may arise. People with disabilities are beautiful and whole just as they are and their talents are gifts from God waiting to bear fruit in your community.
This is the first principle of Christian stewardship. Disabled people in the assembly need to see people like themselves in positions of leadership and people without disabilities need an opportunity to receive all of God’s gifts, those coming from people with and without disabilities.