Principles and Purpose: Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry (AIM)
A Religious Journey
The program, curriculum, and resource manual for the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry intentionally honors the religious component of living with disabilities, so as to integrate people into a faith community that will become a central source of support and action. This program recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every person and our interdependence, which are foundational to our Unitarian Universalist faith.
Moving Ahead From Where You Are—A Continuous Process
The intent of the program is to meet each congregation where it is and move it forward at a reasonable pace. Every three years the congregation will conduct a re-assessment and report on its progress. This process does not grade congregations; it moves a congregation forward, based on its resources, needs, and abilities.
Making a congregation accessible and inclusive is a continuing process. It is often difficult work, involving personal and cultural change. The significance of those changes needs to be transmitted over time as the congregation welcomes new members. And, after having put the hearts and spirits of the congregation into completing all the work it can, there will be new challenges ahead that call it back to the inspirational goal of recognizing all peoples’ humanity and gifts.
Proven Participatory Approach
"With every objective you undertake, consider sharing what you’re doing with the congregation. And celebrate your successes widely, however small or large they might be. We tend to take for granted that everyone is involved in the incidental learning that happens every day, that everyone in the congregation knows that you’ve found a great new story for RE or a wonderful woodworker to fix up your railings. But they probably do NOT know about all this, and they would be pleased to feel like their being informed and cheering the effort on is important to the AIM team.
Also, you can never underestimate the ways that people learn. Part of the team’s charge is to improve the access and inclusion opportunities within the church community, but that also means within the minds of the members of the congregation. The more opportunities you give everyone in the church to think about why that particular door handle doesn’t work for people with disabilities, or how it might feel to have a mental illness that goes on being ignored, the more everyone in the congregation can be part of moving the congregation to new heights of welcome. Some of this inspired thinking is done through objective teaching; a lot of it comes through the quiet pondering that we all do on our own. Make sure that people have opportunities to ponder." - Lee Vorderer, First Parish in Bedford (AIM certified 2017)
Goals of an AIM Congregation
Because AIM meets congregations where they are, different congregations will pursue different goals at different times depending on the unique characteristics of their community. Among the goals that an AIM Congregation may be working on are:
- Encouraging development of spiritual resources—exploration of a personal sense of truth and meaning in a place of safety and acceptance—to support those with disabilities and their families.
- Respectfully, openly and successfully welcoming people with disabilities and their families into the congregation
- Including and addressing the needs of children, youth, and adults with disabilities at every level of congregational life—in worship, programs, social occasions, and leadership—welcoming not only their presence and participation, but the gifts of their lives as well.
- Assuming the presence of people with disabilities, learning to support them, and, with their permission, including their stories in worship, religious education, and other programs.
- Providing pastoral care for people with disabilities and their families, as is done for people with other kinds of situations of need.
- Including a nondiscrimination clause in by-laws and other official documents affecting congregational life.
- Engaging outreach to those with disabilities in its advertising and actively supporting groups that address disability, both secular and sacred.
- Finding or compiling lists of resources to address disability issues in the community and providing referrals for people with disabilities and their families.
- Engaging in legislative advocacy on disability issues.
- Encouraging and providing support groups for people with disabilities and their families.
- Speaking out when the rights of people with disabilities and their families are at stake in the wider community.
- Providing leadership, guidance, information, and learning opportunities so that all people in the congregation make progress toward overcoming negative feelings, ignorance, and judgments about disabilities.
The AIM certification program will move the congregation in the direction of realizing these goals.
Future Changes to the Program
This is a program that will change over time in response to new examples and evaluations of the program from people who have implemented it and on-going events in the field of disability.
Changes to the program structure or requirements will be made in a staged manner and well-communicated in advance. Any impact to congregations that are in the process of carrying out the plan will be evaluated and discussed with them individually. Additional resources may be added to the program at any time.