People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States. With 56 million people, one out of five people belong to this group. Given that statistic, it would be safe to say that there are people with disabilities within your congregation. Also, as members age, the need for accessibility increases. Congregations may have the word inclusion in their vision statement but, unless consciousness is raised and action taken, many spiritual communities will fall short of their vision.
Given the diversity within the community of people with disabilities, there will be a variety of needs. One of the best ways to meet the needs of people within your congregation is to hand out a survey with the Sunday bulletin that asks them what they need to fully participate. The senior minister or the president of the board should make an announcement regarding the survey, asking for details of what the needs are. They should state that if people need help in filling out the survey, to see an usher after the service.
Also, they should state that they are committed to meeting those needs, whenever possible. This should be done only when there is a commitment to take action. In other words, is there money available to do what is required?
There are actions in the area of communication that can be taken that don’t involve a lot of money. Large-print bulletins can be made available for those people who are sight-impaired. When talking with a person who is blind, always identify yourself. When talking with a person who is hard of hearing, always face the person so they can see your lips. A lot of people read lips and get additional information from your facial expressions. If you are trying to communicate with a person who is deaf without an ASL interpreter, be willing to have your conversation through writing. When having a conversation with a person with a speech impediment, the key is patience. You will learn the person’s speech pattern with time. If you don’t understand the person, ask her to repeat what she said. If that doesn’t work, have the conversation through writing. This will probably take more time, and so you might receive the gift of slowing down and the gift of the person who is in front of you!
The Five Basic Unity Principles can be used to empower a congregation to be inclusive for all as follows:
- Having only one Power and one Presence active in the Universe and in our lives, God the Good, gives us the force and the substance we need to make our congregation inclusive and accessible to those who want to participate.
- Being that our essence is of God and that we are inherently good, Unity leaders are called on to see the divine potential in each person with a disability rather than seeing that person as a problem or burden.
- We are co-creators with God, creating reality through thoughts held in mind. Thus, by shifting our thoughts, we take the responsibility of the removal of barriers as ours as a congregation.
- Using prayer and meditation, we see oneness with all. We affirm accessibility on all levels is possible and will be achieved.
- Living the truth we know, we shift the responsibility to us as we prepare budgets. We allocate funds to remove the barriers and then see that it is accomplished.
“All” Are Welcome? Can I Hear You Now?
Most Unity congregations claim they welcome all. Yet if your meeting space does not have hearing loops to allow people with hearing loss to hear more clearly, odds are that we are being excluded.
Over 40,000,000 people in the US have hearing loss, yet we are routinely ignored when churches do not investigate ways to provide hearing access. A hearing loop (usually installed in or under the floor) creates a magnetic field which allows sound to be directed without background noise to an individual’s personalized hearing aid, allowing us to continue to stay involved.
A Simple Device Called a Hearing Loop Has Hearing-Loss Sufferers Rejoicing
After Rev Mary Heron Dyer became deaf in 2008, she and her spouse, Sheryl Butler, began Hearing Access Solutions, to provide education around hearing loss and to install hearing loops.