In late 2019, the Christian Education Committee approved formation of a subcommittee to explore the needs of individuals who are differently abled or who live with sensory or perceptual challenges. In line with our church’s vision “to be an inquiring, inviting and inclusive Christ-centered community,” we wanted to become aware of any barriers in our Church’s structures, communication or attitudes that might hinder full participation in congregational life. Although all members approached the work from differing backgrounds and life experiences, all are committed to finding ways to serve all of God’s people.
Our initial meeting defined goals for the subcommittee:
- Research ways in which churches increase/improve their ability to include individuals with special learning needs and accommodation needs into their congregational life
- Examine ways in which Derry includes and accommodates for individuals who are differently abled or who live with sensory or perceptual challenges
- Make recommendations regarding ways in which Derry can support individuals with cognitive, perceptual, attentional, mobility or sensory challenges into all aspects of congregational life
Subcommittee members committed to researching relevant materials and to making personal contacts with area churches which advertise “Disability Ministry.”
As we researched this very broad topic, we realized that we needed to define the demographics to be considered: individuals with vision loss, hearing loss, mobility impairments, intellectual and sensory differences and behavioral challenges. All age groups should be considered. As we researched and made personal visits, we found many common themes:
- Assessment is critical as well as re-assessment of needs
- Follow up from assessment is essential
- Recommendations should be based on congregational needs
- Education for greeters, ushers, teachers, aides is essential
- 15-20% of the populational have some functional challenges
As the pandemic closed our building, our subcommittee continued with virtual meetings. We defined the ways in which Derry currently includes and accommodates: ramps, handicap accessible doors, large print Bibles and bulletins, auditory amplifiers, quiet lounge with audio as well as accommodations for individual learning differences within classrooms. We confirmed that the first step forward needed to be assessment of needs.
Published congregational needs assessments from Presbyterians for Disability Concerns, Lutheran Initiatives, and Congregational Accessibility Network formed a framework from which the subcommittee developed a six-question survey to give a more complete picture of any barriers which might hinder full participation into congregational life by individuals who are differently abled. Staff reviewed the survey and all involved concluded that the unusual and evolving operational challenges experienced during the pandemic made this a less than optimal time for survey distribution.
The subcommittee pivoted to consider how to be most helpful during this time of limited in person gatherings. Informational material was developed and published in the eNews with tips to help individuals with mild hearing or vision loss achieve optimal access to virtual meetings.
As in person activities resumed in summer and fall, the reservation form was modified to include the statement, “If you have accessibility needs which may impact your full participation in worship, please let us know how we can help.”
Here we are, one year later. Our subcommittee is committed to assuring that everyone has access to full participation in all church experiences. Our next step will be distribution of the Individual and Family Needs Assessment, which asks if cognitive, mobility, perceptual, attentional or sensory challenges have limited their access to church activities or worship and how we can help. As with all aspects of church life, timing of the assessment survey will be driven by community wellness, building access and staff discretion.
Along with all of our church family, we look forward to the day when our doors are fully open and we can continue the process of assuring access for all. Assess needs, develop targeted plans, provide education, and assess again: we can’t wait to involve our caring and compassionate congregation in this endeavor.
If you are experiencing accessibility challenges which impact your access to online worship or educational opportunities at church, please call the church office (717-533-9667) and your concern will be directed to someone who can help.
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them, I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. Isaiah 42:16
I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40