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AIM Workshop for Leadership
AIM Workshop for Leadership
Disability & Accessibility

Introduction to Disability Work in the Congregation

Workshop Overview

Audience

Suggested for congregation leaders.

Introduction

The workshop is intended to educate congregational leaders, provide introductory-level information about why this work is important in congregations, and describe how it is sacred work that promotes social justice and the spiritual health of the congregation.  The Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry program will provide facts about disability as an issue and present basic information about different aspects/types of disabilities and the impact each kind of disability may have on people living with it.

This workshop will convey these ideas with an experiential activity that looks at the issues of stigma and preconceptions as they relate to disability.

Leaders of this program must wrestle with several questions:

  • What are the issues and challenges?  How can you provide leadership in becoming a nonjudgmental, embracing congregation that can support, encourage, and incorporate people who live with different levels of ability/disability into your congregation?
  • Why is this inherently sacred work?  It recognizes the humanity of and respect for all people.
  • Why is addressing disabilities an all-encompassing social justice issue? 
    • People with disabilities have differential status in society.  Issues that arise from differential status cause disparities that are similar to those experienced by people of color, people who have don't have formal immigration status, people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ), and other groups that experience discrimination.
    • The effects of these disparities show up in high unemployment, healthcare disparities, misrepresentation in the media, low income/poverty, lack of affordable housing, food insecurity, and overall lack of opportunity for people with disabilities.
    • Just like for other people who are subject to discrimination, people with disabilities strive for lives that are meaningful and productive—and expect their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be upheld.  In the Unitarian Universalist denomination, Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  This first UU principle articulates why addressing disabilities in our churches and in our society is a social justice issue.
  • Why will this work be hard for people who are currently “able”?
    • They may experience feelings of discomfort around people with disabilities.
    • They often don’t recognize “issues” that are total barriers to people with disabilities, such as church architecture, finances, cultural awareness of one’s own culture, and issues that impact “THEM” as opposed to “US.”

Goals and Learning Objectives

  • To provide introductory-level information about why this work is important in congregations—how it is sacred work that promotes social justice and the spiritual health of the congregation.
  • To provide practical skills to recognize subconscious and subtle biases in yourself and others. 
  • To develop awareness and tools for identifying and reducing biases in oneself and in the congregation as a whole.  

Materials and Handouts

If you choose to implement Activity 1a, Lakeshore Block Play People with Differing Abilities are available from Lakeshore Learning for about $20.  Alternatively, find and cut out pictures of people who are in a wheelchair, blind and using a cane, using sign language, and using a walker; then use the pictures in the exercise instead of the dolls. You will need two boxes, one labeled “US” and the other labeled “THEM."

Make copies of the following handouts, one per participant:

Preparation

The topics in the program link to many areas of congregational involvement.  Consider asking the board of trustees/church council to be involved in this workshop.  Other possibilities might include Lifespan RE teachers/facilitators, small group ministry facilitators, membership committee members, greeters and ushers, and young adult ministries leaders. 

In addition to the groups’ observations, consider using some of these questions to fuel conversation and/or create your own:

  • What might becoming an AIM Certified Congregation mean for us as a congregation?
  • What calls us to do AIM work?
  • Was there something in the workshop that made you uncomfortable?  That you thought might make ”someone” uncomfortable?  What does it mean for us as a congregation to embrace discomfort?

Spiritual Preparation

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

  • What calls your congregation to do AIM work? 
  • Do you have strong feelings about your congregation’s involvement in disability issues?  Do you think others in the congregation do?

Workshop Plan

Welcoming and Entering

Opening Reading

“Disability rights attorney Harriet McBryde Johnson says, “When bigotry is part of mainstream culture, it feels like ‘the way things are.’ My grandfather’s generation of white men in the South didn’t recognize sexism. They thought women really were magnolia blossoms requiring protection.  They didn’t recognize racism either.  They thought African-Americans really were inherently inferior, suitable to menial work, and that the structures of segregation were for the good of both races.  They’d say it wasn’t prejudice, but the way things are. This is where we are with disability today.”  Quoted in Disability Awareness – Do It Right! – Your All-in-One How-To Guide -  Tips, Techniques and Handouts for a Successful Awareness Day, from the Ragged Edge Online community, Mary Johnson, editor.  Avocado Press, 2006, p 7.

Explain the purpose of the workshop to the group:

The workshop is intended to educate congregational leaders, provide introductory-level information about why this work is important in congregations, and describe how it is sacred work that promotes social justice and the spiritual health of the congregation.

The Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry Certification Program will provide facts about disability as an issue and present basic information about different aspects/types of disabilities and the impact each kind of disability may have on people living with it.

This workshop will convey these ideas with an experiential activity that looks at the issues of stigma and preconceptions as they relate to disability.

Activities

Activity 1:  Two possibilities, Activity 1a or Activity 1b

Activity 1a: Telling Stories of Disabilities (20 minutes)

Pick up each doll separately.  Mention that each person (doll) was successful in their lives even though they had a disability. Ask people to tell positive and facts stories about each doll.   

Activity 1b: Visit by a member of the local Center for Independent Living (20 minutes)

Welcome the speaker from the Center for Independent Living and invite them to talk about what they do in the community, and some of the main challenges they have had to deal with in the community. Have the class engage the speaker in a conversation about disability.

Activity 2:  Recognizing and Changing Behavior (20 minutes)

Explain that thinking and acting differently can change the interaction with people with disabilities in a positive way.  Once you recognize that you have made a pre-judgment, try the following:

  1. Pause.
  2. Ask yourself about your thoughts and behaviors.
  3. Then act or speak accordingly.

Engage the class in a discussion about doing this work.  Ask the class:

  • Why is this work a spiritual issue?
  • Why is this work a social justice issue?

Many of the inequities that UUs are already familiar with affect people who have disabilities, including economic disparities, a high unemployment rate, a lack of appropriate medical care and insurance, poor and unaffordable housing, and food inequality.

Ask:  Why have we not considered accessibility and disability within this context?  Here are some possible answers if the class doesn’t mention them:

  • Fear of becoming disabled.
  • Fear of the aging process.
  • Fear of having children who are born with or develop disabilities in childhood.

Distribute the Handout:  Disability Statistics.  Review the handout as a group, and welcome comments from participants as each point is discusses.

Activity 3:  Extending the Conversation (15 minutes)

Discuss the ideas in the Extending the Conversation handout and reflection that you did as preparation for this lesson.  How might these ideas be implemented in your congregation?  In particular, spend time discussing the following:

  • What might becoming a Disability/Ability Action Certified Congregation mean for us as a congregation?
  • What calls us to do this work?
  • Was there something that came up in the workshop that made you uncomfortable?  That you thought might make “someone” uncomfortable?  What does it mean for us as a congregation to embrace discomfort?
Closing

Take courage friends
The way is often hard
The path is never clear
And the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For, deep down there is another truth:
You are not alone.

—Rev. Wayne Arnason

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For more information contact aim@uua.org.