top of page

A Vision for Disability Inclusion

Heads up.

I feel I should be completely forward with you and let you know that there may be a knee-jerk response to some of the content in this post, but hear me out and read it until the end. I do realize the potential controversy of this topic. My prayer is that I've clearly communicated value in considering whether a stand-alone disability ministry program is the best approach for your church, ministry, or organization.

It's also important to note that this is NOT a dig at any program, church, ministry, or outreach that has a stand-alone disability ministry. Not even a little bit! My perspective is from some of the challenges faced by small/smaller/smallish, rural communities that have more limited resources. We have to work within the resources that we're afforded, so that means the approach to disability conversations may look different from one church to the next.

circular graphic with 3 types of attitudes: inclusion, stand-alone, & integrated

Just as the school system offers a continuum of services to support learners with disabilities, there is a similar model in society when it relates to attitudes towards meaningful and authentic access: inclusion, integrated, & stand-alone.

Today, I want to dive into some of the potential challenges of a stand-alone model & I'd like to challenge you to think about what that looks like in relation to disability inclusion.

What is the goal and purpose of a stand-alone disability program model?

This would be a foundational question to consider when thinking about how a church, ministry, or organization approaches the topic of access. Different variables, structures, resources, and visions would make this critical question a key talking point in any discussion. Each of these 3 models (inclusion, integrated, & stand-alone) has strengths and specific purposes. It is important to understand the vision and purpose when developing the right model for the needs of your church or organization.

Some of the various factors of planning for intentional access may include questions like:

  • Is the purpose of intentional access for community and friendships?

  • Is the purpose of intentional access to foster abilities for people with similar life experiences to network?

  • Is the purpose to walk beside each other?

  • Is the purpose to learn from others?

  • Is the purpose to create a welcoming space that is more than just smiles?

  • ((this is the worst one)) Is the purpose to simply fulfill a checklist or to create a shiny PR of the illusion of disability inclusion because it gets attention? <--Cringe. Please, just no.

How does a separate, stand-alone disability program model inclusiveness?
pie graph with 1/4 separated; top reads "division opposes inclusion"

It's hard to be intentional about inclusion when a structure is built around separation. While the genuine and authentic intention may be to provide support and accommodation for individuals with disabilities, it can inadvertently isolate, which can create a separation leading to exclusion and a lack of belonging. When we create spaces that are intentionally designed for people with and without disabilities, long-standing barriers begin to crumble. Without the opportunity for walls to crumble, walls will never crumble. Do you know about Paula Kluth's beef with the Coffee Cart? She's a wee bit more extreme in her views of it than I am, but the sentiment is the same.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, do a quick Google search)

How do staffing and volunteers, both in quantity & quality, impact a stand-alone disability program?

As mentioned above, my whole life has been spent in rural, small-ish churches. I've seen the strain of church staff who try to cover everything and the rotating door of volunteers who have limited time to serve. In a survey I sent out in the Spring of 2023, limited staff, time, and volunteers was a resounding issue that church leaders mentioned. For the church profiles that I'm speaking of, there's generally not a deep bank of resources to set up and facilitate a great stand-alone ministry for people with disabilities. Managing a specialized ministry can require a dedicated and very specific team and many smaller communities are challenged with finding the exact right people to faithfully facilitate such a ministry.

What does a stand-alone disability program communicate?

By not establishing a separate disability ministry, your church or organization sends a powerful message about its commitment to accessibility, value, and opportunity. It conveys that you're dedicated to breaking down barriers and embracing accessibility, regardless of physical or cognitive differences. When you integrate individuals with disabilities into the regular church activities and programs, you're essentially saying that they are just as welcome and deserving of participation as anyone else. This commitment reflects a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, regardless of their abilities.

How does a stand-alone disability program foster growth?

Well, plot twist (in case you didn't see it coming), I'm not sure. I'm sure it does in its own way, but there's so much opportunity for empathy, love, acceptance, and growth when we come together in the name of Jesus. When we all have the opportunity to engage with people of different abilities, it challenges biases and preconceived notions and shows a model of God's love for all, not just those who fit a mold of "typically developing".

Hear me when I say this: approaches to meeting the needs of people with disabilities will be different from organization to organization. Each of the 3 means of access provides a great benefit, value, and community to people and families impacted by disabilities, along with communities actively working towards access.

Curious where your church or organization lies when it comes to disability inclusion and access? Let me hook you up with a downloadable PDF workbook that can serve as a guide to helping you map out the needs of your church, ministry, or organization. This 13-page workbook will walk you through a reflective set of questions for 5 domains that serve as key pillars for disability inclusion. Additionally included are discussion questions intended to empower you to start a conversation about disability inclusion and access, as well as a "next step" planning guide.

image of workbook pages

  • You can find a direct link to download the workbook HERE.

  • You can find a blog post that details the goodies of this resource HERE.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Be sure to get in the comments of my social media posts and let's start a conversation!



bottom of page