Guest post by Sarah Chaudhery, O.T. Reg. (Ont.)
One billion people in our world live with a disability. That’s 15% of the world’s population, or one in every seven people. The world’s larges
t minority group accepts new members daily, without discrimination. They are the disproportionately poor and unemployed, the abused and the abandoned. But as you sit in church on any given Sunday, you may wonder where they are.
Barriers are more than stairs, walls and doors. They are damaging attitudes and perceptions that keep people invisible. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy that a doctor, but the sick.” (Matthew 9:12, NIV) Both physically and spiritually, our churches should be full of people who need God. If we look around our churches and don’t see the need, then it’s not that it’s not there. It’s that we’re doing something wrong.
As an occupational therapist that works in a variety of different faith contexts, a great day for me is when I get to answer the question, “How can I start including people with disabilities better?” Setting up an inclusive program at any level can follow a similar pattern:
What are the needs?
Talk to parents, as well as leaders and volunteers in the particular program. Where do they see the needs? What could they use help with? Consider the present needs, but also the future. You may only know one child with a disability now, but our hope is that others will feel welcomed as well.
Who can help?
There may be others who have experience working with people with special needs, or those who really have a heart for these people. Find out who they are, and form a team.
Make a plan.
Talk to caregivers about what their goals and dreams are for your particular program. Decide on a few ways together that you can work towards these goals. Write them down. Get permission to share the plan with the appropriate people.
Train your staff and volunteers.
Have a training session where you share the plan with the volunteers that will be working with the individual. Determine who will do what, and set up a rotating schedule if you need one.
They say in business that the ‘fortune’s in the follow up’, and that is just as true here! Talk to parents and caregivers as well as the volunteers and staff. Is the plan working? Are there places it could be made better? Your goals and plan will continue to change and grow – that’s okay!
There will be struggles and challenges, but reflection on how far Jesus stretched to reach each one of us, should put our hearts and minds at ease. As you get to know each individual with a disability, your understanding of God’s family will grow and you will wonder, how did we live without this person before?
Sarah Chaudhery, O.T. Reg. serves as the Disabilities Coordinator with Plan to Protect and with Scripture Union Canada as Director of Major Sporting Events and Outreach. Sarah is a registered occupational therapist with a passion for helping people of all abilities excel in every day activities. She is committed to helping organizations ensure they never have to turn people with different abilities away because of lack of supportive programming, training or facilities.
Sarah’s experience includes development of inclusive camps and programs, as well as providing 1:1 support for kids with different abilities while they participate in these activities. Sarah also uses her athletic ability to serve as a sighted guide for tandem cycling and running.