Starting in Your Worshipping Community
Take the first steps on your journey to intentionally welcome worshippers of all abilities.
Do you display a welcoming attitude?
Worshippers recognize that they are welcome when the congregation demonstrates positive attitudes in the following ways:
- Emphasize talents, strengths and gifts rather than labeling people by their differences
- “Walk the talk” by investing in accessible parking and large-print materials, improving sound and lighting, and installing wheelchair ramps
- Give adults and children with special needs opportunities to serve others
- Don’t let invisible differences, such as learning differences, mental disorders, cancer or heart disease, prevent people from being active members
- Include children of all abilities in religious education classes and provide appropriate support
- Provide accommodations so that religious and lay leaders can continue to serve if they become affected by a health concern, if they desire
- Create a “care committee” to connect with families with special needs and offer assistance, respite, and social support
- Train clergy, staff, and volunteers to communicate using, “People First Language” and to extend open arms to convey the warmth of God’s love
- Publicize your commitment to welcoming worshippers of all abilities by displaying access symbols in newspaper advertisements, event announcements, and signage
- Include the words “All are welcome. Please call (insert phone number) so that we can provide accommodations for your participation.” in all event announcements
Do you use people first language?
When writing or speaking about people who happen to have disabilities, words should be chosen with care in order to promote dignity and respect. Use “People First Language” to set a welcoming tone:
- Refer to the person first. Say “a man who uses a wheelchair” NOT “a wheelchair bound man.”
- If the disability isn’t critical to the story or conversation, don’t mention it.
- Describe a person, not a condition. For example, say “a person with epilepsy” NOT “an epileptic.”
- Never use the term “mentally retarded.” The acceptable terms are “intellectual disability” or “cognitive disability.”
- Never use the word “handicapped” as it connotes begging as the only occupation for people with differing abilities. For example, say “accessible parking” NOT “handicapped parking.”
- Don’t portray people with differing abilities who are successful as “heroes” or raise expectations that all people with disabilities should reach this level.
- Don’t sensationalize disabilities by using terms such as “afflicted with,” “victim of” or “suffers from.”
- Don’t use generic labels such as “the disabled” for groups of people with disabilities.
- Emphasize abilities, not limitations. For example, say “walks with crutches,” NOT “crippled,” and “uses a wheelchair,” NOT “wheelchair bound.”
- Don’t refer to people with disabilities as patients. A disability is not a disease.
- Don’t use condescending euphemisms such as “handy-capable” or “physically inconvenienced.”
- Speak of people with disabilities as the active participants in society that they are.
Have you removed physical and attitudinal barriers?
Use the principles of “universal design” to make your buildings more accessible for everyone, regardless of need or age. As you put together your long-term accessibility plan, consider making the following accommodations:
- Install long-handled door hardware. It is easier for everyone to use, not only those with impaired hand function.
- Make doorways at least 36 inches wide
- Install a button to open at least one heavy entrance door
- Ensure that accessible entrances are truly accessible, without any step up and with accessible thresholds that are perfectly flat
- Place pews 32 inches apart to allow space for people who use walkers, crutches and canes
- Provide padded seating or have chair pads available. Provide chairs with arms and a higher seat for those who have difficulty rising.
- Open the ends of several existing pews so that people using wheelchairs may be seated with their families and friends rather than in specially designated segregated sections
- Consider converting two side-by-side bathrooms into one accessible, unisex bathroom so caregivers can assist
Parking and Sidewalks
- Install curb cuts at sidewalks and ramps at entrances to make it possible to get from a parked car to church services without going up or down a step
- Place accessible parking spaces for cars and vans close to accessible entrances
- Make the sanctuary and choir areas accessible
- Make the ambo or podium accessible with adjustable height and a barrier free space for wheelchair footplates underneath.
- Adjust the microphone for a person’s height or provide a lapel microphone
- Hold Sunday school classes, fellowship activities, and meetings in accessible areas
- Consult with persons who use wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, or canes in every phase of planning new construction, building modifications, or additions to buildings
- Start a TEAM Belong Ministry and work with the team to raise money for architectural modifications through bake sales, car washes, and memorial contributions
- Conduct a Facilities Survey, a Survey of Congregants’ Needs and use Reflecting on Belonging to determine your accessibility and how well you are making worshippers of all abilities feel they belong to your faith community
- Use the Accessibility Plan Worksheet to prioritize projects that will make your house of faith accessible and welcoming to worshippers of all abilities
Do you make services accessible to all?
Accommodating a wider range of learning styles and capabilities can make your services more accessible to all.
- Present services in many different formats using words, pictures, other languages, dramatizations, and music
- Record sermons or readings on audiotape or make them available in large print
- Amplify sound system and provide assistive listening devices or install a hearing loop for those with hearing difficulties
- Make sure lighting is bright enough and place fixtures for maximum visibility
- Make it easy for people with disabilities and their families to suggest accommodations so they are not made to feel like “complainers”
- Engage a Sign Language Interpreter for worship service on a regular basis.
- Use the words “Stand or sit as you are able” and “Kneel or sit as you are able” in worship aides or at worship services
- Consistently publicize that people of all abilities are welcome to participate in worship, ministry, fellowship and religious education and that accommodations will be provided
- Offer transportation to people in need, provide it on a consistent basis, and publicize transportation availability in bulletins and event announcements
Welcome Worshipers of All Abilities
Steps To Intentionally Welcome All
Start a TEAM Belong Ministry
With the approval of the pastor, enlist a group of committed people and create an ongoing TEAM Belong ministry approved by the governing council of the faith community. Download the TEAM Belong Ministry Handbook to get started.
Who Should Be On a TEAM Belong Ministry?
- A person with a disability
- A family member of a person with a disability
- A decision-maker from your worshipping community
- People with skills in grant writing and fundraising
- Someone knowledgeable about architecture or contracting
What Can a TEAM Belong Ministry Do?
Remember that making change at one point in time does not necessarily answer the need forever. Devices may break, new ideas and requests may come up and new members may join your faith community.
- Identify barriers to worship with a walk-through facilities survey
- Train religious leaders and congregants in disability etiquette
- Audit groups and ministries to see if the are accessible
- Make sure all meetings are accessible
- Develop an Accessibility Plan
- Be ready to update your plan to accommodate new needs
- Apply for an TEAM Belong Award or Junior TEAM Belong Award
- Use the Different Gift, Same Spirit lesson plan series to teach children and youth the importance of welcoming people of all abilities. Download a free version from the “More Resources” page on our website.
- Also available from Loyola Press
- Celebrate success by planning a TEAM Belong month!
Plan a TEAM Belong Month
- Mark your congregation’s calendar for TEAM Belong Month in August or choose a month convenient for your congregation.
- Start a TEAM Belong Ministry and introduce members to the congregation during TEAM Belong Month.
- Select hymns that reflect dignity and respect for worshippers of all abilities such as “Open Doors”
- Run a series of educational bulletin articles about disability etiquette.
- Plan a special worship service during TEAM Belong Month. Use the TEAM Belong Month Workbooks below for ideas, prayers, and homily hints.
- Survey your congregation to find out the needs of your members.
- Invite members of all abilities to participate in a worship service as a greeter, minister of communion, or reader during TEAM Belong Month. Provide any accommodations needed and make sure their participation continues throughout the year.
- Invite members of all abilities to speak at a worship service about what belonging to your congregation means to them.
- Educate your congregation to intentionally welcome worshippers of all abilities every day of the year.
- Draw up an action plan to create a caring, accessible and welcoming faith community and announce your plans during TEAM Belong Month.
TEAM Belong Month Resources