Kazol is now a leader in her community.

From: Living with disability – Footsteps 108

How to make our churches and communities more inclusive of people living with disabilities

Engage Disability is a network of organisations, churches and individuals in India. We are working to enhance inclusion of people with disabilities in Christian communities, and to empower people with disabilities to take their rightful place in society.

Delegates at the second Engage Disability national conference. Photo: Engage Disability Network, India

Delegates at the second Engage Disability national conference. Photo: Engage Disability Network, India

It all started when a pastor visited one of the Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) disability projects, looking for help for his daughter with cerebral palsy. By spending time with him, we learnt how lonely the life of a carer can be, even in the church. We spoke to others with similar concerns and all agreed that the opposite should be true. The church should be a place of love and acceptance. Not isolation and, sometimes, discrimination. 

Bringing people together

Having worked with people with disabilities for years, we knew what was needed. Not specialised knowledge or complicated programmes, but simply opportunities for people to interact with people with disabilities, and their families. 

We set out to do three things:

In 2014 we organised a national conference – the first of its kind in India – which was attended by more than 500 people. As delegates shared their ideas and experiences, many people with disabilities spoke powerfully about what life is like for them. 

Regional hubs were formed and each is now a centre for training, sharing, and advocating for change. Tried-and-tested ideas have been gathered into a toolkit to help churches engage with, and serve alongside, people with disabilities 

What we have learnt 

Local ownership is crucial and we were delighted when a second national conference was hosted by a church, not a development organisation. The idea is not to keep the network running forever, but to empower local leaders to keep the vision alive. 

The involvement of people with disabilities right from the start has been key to the success of the network. Their voices have been clearly heard, leading to a greater level of understanding and a desire to see people with disabilities included in every area of society. 

Discussion questions

Further reading

Engage Disability Toolkit

This toolkit covers all aspects of disability inclusion including health, education, empowerment and employment. Download free of charge from www.engagedisability.com/resources Alternatively email engagedisability@gmail.com 

To find out more, visit http://engagedisability.com 

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