Congregational Stories of Inclusion
American Sign Language Interpretation
Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Religious Education, shares that the UU Church of Silver Spring (UUCSS) has offered American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation during Sunday worship services for many years, and started offering ASL interpretation in Religious Education (RE) more than a year ago. They now offer interpretation in RE two Sundays per month and hope to expand to all Sundays as funding becomes available. (Read about UUCSS and other congregations in this 2010 UU World article).
Each week in RE, the chalice lighting is done in both ASL and spoken English; the children know the signs quite well by now! The congregation also started up a Junior Signers program with a once a month ASL class for children and youth during coffee hour. This started after several deaf children joined the RE program and hearing children wanted to learn how to communicate with them without an interpreter. Next year they hope to have the Junior Signers lead the chalice lighting in ASL during the worship services.
Read more about this ministry and see the chalice lighting words interpreted on the UUCSS website.
When UU young adult Ben Stevenson was a teenager attending the UU Congregation of Atlanta GA (UUCA), he volunteered as a classroom “buddy” to a child with special needs. So when it came time to decide on an Eagle Scout project, Ben knew right away what he’d like to do – make some improvements to the playground that would make it accessible for his friend A.J. Peterson-Martin. The project involved creating a pathway on which AJ could use his wheelchair, converting a sand box to a sand table, and other equipment adaptations. When the work was done, a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place (see sidebar).
Ben says, “Coming to UUCA on Sundays to help out AJ was a wonderful experience. He was a really great kid and it was his joyful spirit that motivated me to plan an Eagle Scout project to improve playground accessibility. Looking back at the many congregation members, Boy Scouts, family, friends, and even strangers walking by who volunteered their time and energy for the project, I will always remember the power of a community that works together to serve others and the value that can have for one incredible kid.”
AJ’s parents shared, “We are so grateful to Ben and UUCA for all of their work to make Religious Education accessible for AJ and all children with special needs. AJ was a people person. He loved being 'in the thick of things'. The accessible playground allowed him to be in on all the action. He loved playing with friends at the accessible sand table. In the classroom as AJ's Special Friend, Ben provided the assistance AJ needed to more fully participate in class activities. For AJ, RE was an opportunity to play, learn and grow just as it should be for all children.”
How does your congregation practice inclusion and accessibility? Share your story by emailing religiouseducation [at] uua [dot] org.