In the UK we have been slowly breaking down the barriers to including people with disabilities. I remember as a student visiting a large institution called Calderstones – a residential hospital for adults with learning disabilities. I cried all the way home. That was in the 80s.
Now the old hospitals have closed down and we have care in the community. Whereas there are horrible stories like Winterbourne to contend with, there are also many successful and wonderful care organisations enabling people with learning disabilities live and be included in our communities. We have legislation and funding that enable people with LD to have some control over their lives and make decisions for themselves.
There is still a looooooooooong way to go. It is easier, however, to complain about what is not being done than join in and do something about it… That is why I support organisations like Prospects (http://www.prospects.org) and Liveability (http://www.livability.org.uk/church/) who are doing something and are Christian organisations supporting churches to become more inclusive.
This of course is something very close to my heart. Our little group for adults with LD is growing and challenging us all to address some of the barriers to regular church services. They like their group and their teaching, but there are only a few of our members that attend regular services too. I am beginning to examine the reasons for this with a student who is writing a dissertation, here is one…
Our church is open to growing and learning and doing what it can to include ALL people. It doesn’t happen immediately and despite an old building, accessibility is always on the agenda of that particular committee. But it’s not only physical accessibility that is a barrier. In a way that is the easiest thing to deal with.
No…it’s the hidden barriers we must examine…like language, for example.
As soon as you walk through the door in many places of worship there may be a warm welcome and then a set of notices and/or a hymn book is thrust into our hands. But what if you can’t read?
We read the Bible…it’s a big book with small writing and lots of it. But what if you can’t read?
We sing songs from sheets, books or screens. But what if you can’t read?
There are posters about events and meetings, prayer letters, newsletters, gospel tracts. But what if you can’t read?
At our group we use puppets, pictures, drama and a symbol programme called Communicate in Print (http://www.widgit.com/) to help our slow and non readers access the Bible, song words and notices. It is a challenge to all churches to examine how to make regular church this accessible.
Are we up to it? Shall we ask the people with LD themselves what makes church good for them? Shall we start a journey together and not be afraid of trying things, learning together from our successes and failures and building a church fit for God’s family?