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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

Karla (not her real name) was a leader in her church, teaching Sunday school and helping to organise many church activities. Gradually she began to lose her mobility, and felt she could no longer be a leader. Discouraged, she stayed at home. What was the point of going to church? She no longer felt wanted in her congregation and she became depressed.

It wasn’t just that she had to use a wheelchair. What affected Karla most was that she felt pushed aside. 

It would be three years before she discovered that God’s love for each person, with or without a disability, is the same. Once she realised this, she felt she had something to offer. She started to attend church again and to teach. She began to work with other people with disabilities, sharing God’s love and helping them to see that they are important and needed in God’s community. 

How can we make it easier for people with different kinds of disabilities to participate fully in church and community life? Below are some steps we can take. 

Study the Bible to discover important truths 

Learn more about disability 

Uphold the law 

Over the last decade the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been adopted by most countries in the world. National laws based on the convention should protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Be respectful 

The UN convention helps us to understand the kind of language we should use. Most people living with disabilities are quite happy to acknowledge that their bodies do not work as they would like, but they prefer others to accept them as they are. Focus on how we respond to them as people, meeting their need for friendship. 

Show love 

There are countless ways we can show thoughtful, loving care to those who live with disabilities. They do not want pity but opportunity, and sometimes practical support. 

Look after families 

Often the families of people with severe disabilities become very tired and struggle to cope. They are caring for their loved ones all day, every day, and may receive very little help from the state. 

This is where churches can make a significant difference by reaching out to these families and giving them extra support. 

Intellectual disability

An intellectual disability is caused by the way the brain develops before, during or shortly after birth. People with an intellectual disability often take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand information and interact with other people. 

The level of support needed will vary. For example, someone with a mild intellectual disability may only need help with certain things, like getting a job. However, someone with a severe intellectual disability may need full-time care. With the right support, many people with intellectual disabilities can live independent lives.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 

This is an international legal agreement which exists to protect and promote the human rights of people with disabilities. Since 2006 it has been signed by most nations in the world. It recognises ‘the importance of accessibility to the physical, social, economic and cultural environment, to health and education and to information and communication, in enabling persons with disabilities to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms’. 

Visit to see if your country has signed up to this agreement. The convention is available to download in multiple languages, large print and in the form of sign language videos. 

  Brenda Darke

Brenda Darke trained as a teacher of children with severe intellectual disabilities. She currently teaches Bible college courses on disability and works with different groups across Latin America to encourage disability inclusion in church. She is author of the prize-winning book Un camino compartido (A shared path). Email: Address: c/o Latin Link, 87 London Street, Reading, RG1 4QA, UK. Telephone: +44 (0)118 957 7100

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