Your congregation can speak the right hospitality message for persons with special needs, and the message is free! But the message has to be intentional, and it’s not all words!
“Hi, my name is Jane. What’s yours?” is a friendly opener. The reply, “I’m Nola.” Names are a perfect opening, but what is in a name, and what invites people into a congregation where they feel wanted and valued? The sacred flow of intentions sets the climate. One person with a disability after attending a new church commented, “They didn’t say anything, but I heard exactly what they said.” Intuitively he felt the climate through many messages.
Adequate, well-marked handicap parking speaks the first welcome sign to Nola, and the second welcome sign is the informed usher for the sanctuary who is comfortable with persons with disabilities. Not all disabilities are visible, so The Ushers and Greeters Handbook will help with training.
Here are some other suggestions of what made Jane’s new visitor, Nola, feel that the congregation put its arms around her the moment she arrived.
Attitude of Members
- There was an attitude that every meeting of persons is a gift exchange. It says, “I know you have gifts to share with me, and I will share mine.” When this attitude permeates a congregation, everyone is invited. People with disabilities work or don’t work, sing, play instruments, lead choirs, are CEO’s of companies, drive cars, work at the grocery store, are senators, smile a lot, have the gift of encouragement, work in nuclear physics, talk or don’t talk, are pastors, etc. Everyone has a gift, and, in the right environment, visitors share theirs. The entire congregation is blessed.
- There was visible evidence that persons with disabilities are participants and worship leaders.
- A reflected attitude that the church encouraged participation of persons with disabilities and there was interaction with other congregants. Use Planning Sheet for Events to insure accessibility.
- Signage in words and Braille marked access to the building with handicap parking, ramps, restrooms, handrails, etc.
- A sign in the foyer told what aids were available, such as large print bulletins and hymnals and Bibles, sound loops, a sign or a greeter directing to signed language area and/or the real time monitor.
- The nursery attendants were trained and welcomed her child who had a feeding problem.
- People around Nola were comfortable and not nervous and edgy about her disability. The message was that everyone is okay and we are accustomed to that.
- A team of American Sign Language interpreters worked in a designated area.
- Bulletin announcements told about programs of disability and offers of assistance. The words of prayers and hymns were printed in large print bulletins because people in wheelchairs couldn’t see a video screen.
- People from the church made her feel like family, and welcomed her in a classroom, the parking lot, at meetings, even later at the grocery store.
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