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Disability Workshop for Adults: Disability Activism Today
Disability Workshop for Adults: Disability Activism Today
Disability & Accessibility

Workshop Overview


Suggested for all congregants.


People with disabilities face poverty and unemployment at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities.  And economic injustice is the tip of the iceberg.  How can our congregation influence the conversation for disability justice?  We will review some of the latest news and resources, practice articulating theological calls for justice, and brainstorm advocacy strategies.

Goals and Learning Objectives

  • To provide an overview of some current issues in disability rights.
  • To introduce the idea of accountable partnerships.
  • To discuss avenues for congregational and member involvement.

Materials and Handouts

You will need a chalice, and a flipchart and markers or other means to post ideas and to record responses.

Make copies of the following handouts for participants:

Facilitators should check the list of additional resources for links to current information, and develop additional handouts as desired.


  • Review
  • Read over the workshop plan and handouts and explore some of the additional resources.
  • Using the resource list or other sources, facilitators should select three or four issues to focus on, drawn from different categories in the handout Areas of Disability Justice Work.  Choose issues affecting your state or locality and some national issues.   These issues will be used throughout the workshop.  Create a handout with brief synopses of your chosen issues.
  • Post on a flipchart or slide:  Activity 2 Some Theologies of Disability.
  • If you wish to use them, look up current statistics on economic issues using resource links.
  • If there is currently one local/state issue your congregation is ready to focus on, or you already have identified a local disability advocacy organization with which you would like to partner, consider the following modifications to Activities 1,2, and 4: 
  • Acknowledge the range of disability justice issues, but focus on your single selected issue;
  • Invite someone from your partner organization to collaborate on the workshop
  • You may want to make a handout of the additional resources for people who want to do independent reading or research after the workshop, and/or email the additional resources to interested participants.

Spiritual Preparation

Set aside time for journaling, reflection, or other form of contemplation, using the following focus questions:

  • Consider your experiences with social justice, civil/human rights, or other advocacy work.  What calls you to do this work? 
  • Do you have strong feelings about your congregation’s involvement in social justice work?  Make time to explore your feelings before facilitating the workshop.

Extending the Conversation

Read the Handout:  Extending the Conversation (PDF)

This is one of several workshops that could link to your congregation’s social justice programs.  In addition to ideas social justice leaders may have after this workshop, consider using the following questions to fuel conversation and/or create your own:

  • What mechanisms do we currently use to bring advocacy opportunities and issues to the attention of the congregation?  What would it take to include more issues of disability rights?
  • How do our goals for our Disability/Ability Action Plan fit with the social justice work of the congregation? 
  • How can we marshal our energy to make a difference in our community?  What are some opportunities to build sustainable partnerships? 

Workshop Plan

Welcoming and Entering

Chalice Lighting

We kindle this light in the chalice of our community that it may remind us to bring its light with us and use it to help make a better world.

Opening Reading

Introduce the first activity with the following reading from the history of disability rights, and then say the following paragraph or similar words to introduce the workshop.  [Note:  The reading is an excerpt from “Disability Rights History:  Supporting 504,” by Kimberley Thompson, April 5, 2013.]

For 26 days in April [1977], disability rights activists sat in DC demanding enforcement of the first major law to bar discrimination against the disabled.  The protesters believed the law would bring one of the nation’s most isolated and powerless groups into the mainstream.  These demonstrations changed the course of civil rights history, and resulted in the signing of the 1977 Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) regulations which finally implemented Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the first federal civil rights protections for persons with disabilities in the history of the United States.—Kimberley Thompson

In the larger context, disability justice is about changing attitudes and systems to embrace the full spectrum of human difference.  Still, there are barriers that people living with disabilities encounter, issues that call for advocacy and witness.  This workshop begins by highlighting some of these barriers.


Activity 1:  Current Issues Roundup (20 minutes)
  • Present statistics if you have chosen to do so.
  • Distribute Handout: Areas of Disability Justice Work, and note that there are many areas of disability advocacy work.
  • Present current advocacy opportunities you have chosen to focus on.
  • Distribute any additional handout(s) you have prepared.
  • Allow a brief time for discussion.
Activity 2:  Theological Foundations of Advocacy (25 minutes)

Introduce the next exercise with these or similar words:

Reflecting on the link between our theological foundations and values and our advocacy work can add force to our witness and depth to our personal spiritual journeys.  We’re going to spend some time working with this link.

Post the following bulleted items on a flipchart or slide:

Some theologies of disability:

  • Each of us is called to be our best self.
  • All people have gifts.
  • We are all created in God’s image.
  • Each person is unique but we are all one family.

These are some theologies that Unitarian Universalist have connected with widening the circle to include the full range of human abilities.

Distribute and discuss Handout: Examples of Unitarian Universalist
Foundations for Justice Work.  This handout presents well-known affirmations of Unitarian Universalist values, and an articulation of justice grounded in theology and values, from UUA President Rev. Peter Morales.

  • Dyads: Practice articulating a theological call for disability justice.  Allow 10 minutes

Introduce the next exercise with these or similar words:

In this exercise we’re going to practice articulating our own theologies and values as foundations for disability justice work.  You may be very practiced at this already; if so, that’s great!  Alternatively, this exercise may feel awkward to you; that’s okay, too. 

Split the group into teams of two.  Ask each dyad to:

  • Pick one of the example issues that were shown previously, and create a theological call for justice that puts this issue in concert with your values and theology.
  • Prepare as dyads to report back.

Gather the larger group together again.  Ask the dyads to report on what they came up with and/or how it felt

Activity 3:  Nothing About Us Without Us (20 minutes)

Present the following concepts:

  • “Nothing About Us Without Us” is the defining slogan of the disability rights movement.
    • Historically, people living with disabilities were left out of decisions that directly affected them.  People were imposing solutions that did not arise from the affected community. 
  • Nothing About Us Without Us came into use in the United States in the advocacy efforts that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • The slogan reflects the empowerment of people living with disabilities.
  • Change is more effective when those most directly affected lead the way.
  • However, people who do not live with disabilities are also important to this work. 
  • Broad backing adds clout to what is being advocated for.
  • Strong allies help change happen.
  • Working for justice includes tearing down US-THEM barriers.
  • To do justice work in a just way, allies need to work in partnership with people with disabilities.

Ask the group: 

What can a person who does not live with disabilities do to help create change?

Listen for the following responses; add any ideas that are not mentioned:

  • Learn—About issues.  About attitudes.  About your own attitudes.
  • Follow.  Take your cues for action from those most affected.  Be accountable.
  • Speak up—Against discrimination.  Against scapegoating.  Against stereotyping.  For accommodations.  For inclusion.
  • Bear witness.  Show up.  Write the letter, post the link, and go to the rally.  Organize.
  • Allow yourself to be awkward or uncomfortable.  Give yourself time to build relationships.

Give the group an opportunity to discuss these ideas.  What was familiar?  What’s challenging?

Activity 4:  Advocacy Strategies (25 minutes)

Say the following or similar words:

Let’s turn our attention back to opportunities to advocate on issues.

Ask the group to brainstorm on the following question, and record their responses.  (5 minutes)

What can our congregation do to advocate for disability rights?

Listen for the following possible responses (and mention those that do not arise in the group):

  • Keep current on issues (blogs, email lists, etc.).
  • Write letters, circulate petitions, make phone calls, etc.
  • Lobby state and federal legislators.
  • Lobby local elected officials and local/regional decision-making bodies.
  • Witness opportunities for action, and organize that action.
  • Partner with local disability advocacy groups.

Split the large group into small groups. (15 minutes)

Give each group one of the issues you had chosen for your handout.  Ask the groups to consider the following questions:

  • What could our congregation do to advocate on this issue?
  • How would we present this issue to the larger congregation?  To the press?  What theological ideas or values would we lift up to frame why it matters?

Gather the larger group together again.  Ask the groups to report back.


Offer participants the opportunity to call out something from today’s discussion that intrigued them or that they are taking home.

Give thanks for the participation, and for the promise that this knowledge has brought to the congregation.

Extinguish the Chalice

We extinguish this light, and take the power of this community with us into the world.

Additional Resources

Issues and Advocacy Opportunities

Employment Issues

Social Security

Presenting Statistics

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