Is your parish user-friendly for parishioners with disabilities?
This hope is that all of us become more aware of the special needs our of our parishioners with disabilities, to ensure they feel and experience welcome and inclusion when the parish comes together to celebrate the redeeming love of Christ in our midst. For this we need to pay attention to: accessibility, inclusion and participation, communication/language and catechesis.
Accessibility will require, where this is not already the case, changes in access to the church and other buildings for those parishioners with mobility aids, such as walking aids and wheel-chairs.
Some suggestions for improved accessibility are:
- A ramp or level access for people with wheelchairs;
- Doors that are easy to open;
- Aisles that are wide enough for movement, particularly for a wheelchair;
- Accessibility to the sanctuary area when they minister or participate in an activity there;
- Suitable toilet facilities
- Assigned car-parking spaces
Inclusion and Participation
Giving them the opportunity to serve in liturgy and other aspects of life in the church. For example, as proclaimers, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, flower arrangers, choir members, ushers and collectors.
We must be sensitive how we communicate with parishioners with disabilities. This will include the language we use in addressing the congregation or each other. For instance, it would be more appropriate to use the terms:
- ‘People with a disability’ and not ‘handicapped’ person; and
- ‘People with disabilities’ and not the ‘disabled’.
The Revised Statement on Catechesis of the Southern African Bishops’ Conference states:
‘It is part of the Catholic tradition to consider those who suffer handicaps, physical or mental, as well as other forms of disabilities as people particularly loved by the Lord. Suitable catechesis needs to be provided for these people. This calls for personalised and adequate programmes that involve the family and the Christian community.’
The Archdiocese responds to this statement by offering the SPRED programme to parishes. The need for all of us to become more aware of the special need of our parishioners with disabilities challenges us to care for each other and allow everyone the opportunity of sharing their gifts and themselves with others within a local church. This includes the recognition of other person’s dignity, with or without disability. Failure to recognise the absolute value of the other leads to impoverishment within the parish community.
Sr Teresa Marie Healey, SPRED Dept