Around a quarter to a third of the UK population has some form of disability, and the number who experience the effects is larger (eg family members and friends, etc).
We do not see that proportion reflected in our congregations at present, so it’s important to understand why.
If you don’t have any disabled people coming to your church, you may think you don’t need an accessible toilet/access ramp/large-print service books or other aids.
But by anticipating and addressing access needs for disabled people, we help them to feel more welcome, and ultimately this encourages them to come and participate in church life.
Your Disability Adviser
Revd Bill Braviner is the Disability Adviser in the Diocese of Durham. After he takes up the post of Archdeacon of Halifax in 2022, more news of a replacement adviser will be given here.
Key points to bear in mind about Disability in the Church
- Disabilities exist on a spectrum. For example, most people who are visually impaired will have some sight. Some might simply need spectacles, while others might rely on a guide dog. It can be very hurtful to a disabled person to be challenged as to ‘whether they are really disabled’. Understanding that disabilities exist on a spectrum, and that not all disabilities are visible, is extremely important in our welcome and outreach, as well as our ongoing relationship and mutual care.
- Disabled people want to find and follow their vocation as much as anyone else, and part of our ministry is to encourage one another in that. In the past, disabled people were often objectified, seen as requiring ministry but not seen as people who could offer ministry. We are all disciples, all called through baptism into ministry, and disability doesn’t change that.
- Talk to disabled people that you meet in the community about their needs and what they would find helpful in the Church. Ministry with, among, to, and by disabled people begins, grows and flourishes where we commit ourselves to deepening our understanding of each other and our relationship with each other. In that sense it is no different from any other ministry.
What do we mean by ‘Disability’?
Disability is an extremely wide-ranging term, encompassing the obvious and the invisible, along with physical and mental disabilities of all kinds.
Thankfully, perceptions and thinking about disability have changed and continue to change over time. Here are some different ways people have thought about disability:
- The Medical Model - disability seen as something ‘wrong with’ the person. It was something about them which prevented them from accessing what society has to offer
- Social Model - the disabling factors are seen as less about the person, and more about the way the world is set up. For example, a wheelchair user is not prevented from using our buildings by being a wheelchair user, but by the presence of steps. A visually impaired person is not prevented from accessing our services by their visual impairment, but by the lack of service materials in a format they can read. The social model understands that a person is disabled by the world which is not set up in a way that allows them full access to it
- The Pilgrimage Model – developed by Bill, which acknowledges that both models inevitably come into play in conjunction with each other, but this model commends a commitment to travel well together, each taking account of the others’ needs and gifts
Resources to help churches become more accessible
- Disability Adviser Bill Braviner worked with the team at the national Church Buildings Council of the Church of England to produce some guidance on Equal Access, which you can download
- There is also a useful self-audit tool available through Inspired North East
- The national Church of England’s Digital Labs Blogs have some great articles, especially the following:
- The national Church of England’s Churchcare pages – especially:
- Inspired North East - Information and advice for local church congregations considering or embarking upon church development projects