Participation by People with Disabilities
As you move through the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry (AIM) program, keep in mind that each member with a disability will choose to participate in ways that are right for them. Some of us will be eager to join in the planning and implementation, others will attend some of the workshops and activities, and some will give the program a wide berth.
There are many reasons why an individual with a disability might choose a modest level of personal involvement with the implementation of the AIM program. Some of us may not be comfortable having attention brought to our disability. Some may be unready to talk about it with others, and some will not identify as a person with a disability. Someone may have had unpleasant experiences at church around disability issues and may not be ready to trust the process or the participants. Some will choose not to be on a committee at church that is focused on disability issues simply because they may choose to spend their leisure time in an activity focused on something entirely different. At the same time, someone with an invisible disability may be very involved in the implementation of AIM without other people ever thinking of them as someone with a disability.
It is important that each person with a disability choose the level of involvement that is right for them. The only time there needs to be concern is if all members with disabilities choose not to participate. In that case, further consideration of the circumstances is needed.
Just as members with disabilities must choose their own ways of participation, they must know that the work of addressing disability issues in the congregation will continue. For those who choose not to participate, the AIM team might offer other opportunities to give confidential input to the AIM process if they wish to do so.
Involvement of Families of People with Disabilities
You are also encouraged to have a means for getting input from the families of people with disabilities, by having a group or other means for involving them in this process. While families of people with disabilities may not be discriminated against or live personally with a disability, many of them are profoundly affected financially, occupationally, and emotionally, and family members are often among the fiercest and most effective of advocates.
Again, though, recognize that some families of people with disabilities may choose not to participate, for a number of reasons. Again, their choice around participation should be accepted without judgment. And again, it may prove valuable to the work in the congregation to provide opportunities for families to give confidential input in private.
The first place to model inclusion under the AIM program is in the planning and leadership of the program in your congregation. These efforts should include both people who identify as having a disability and people who do not. The motto of the disability rights movement is “Nothing about us without us” specifically because there is a long history of those who do not have disabilities making the decisions for those who do. A successful AIM Congregation empowers people with disabilities. By the same token, the presence of people who do not identify as having a disability on the AIM leadership team is essential, and signals that the program is important and impacts the entire community.
The AIM Administrator and the AIM Coordinating Committee will work with congregations in the initial stages to help develop your congregational team and achieve this critical balance in membership.
Variations in how our minds and our bodies work are part of the vast range of human diversity, and contribute to individual uniqueness. Society determines which of these variations are considered “typical” and defines the rest as disabilities. These definitions are fluid over time and across cultures.
Approximately 20% of Americans today live with disabilities. Disabilities may be physical, cognitive, sensory, or psychological, or categorized in other ways [i]. They may be visible or invisible. A person may be born with disabilities or acquire them later in life. Many people have multiple disabilities. Many people do not consider themselves to have a disability, even though their body or mind does not fit within the range defined as “typical.”