Moving Toward Inclusion Through Disability Awareness Sunday

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Our church (Hope Reformed in Sheboygan, WI) celebrated Disability Awareness Sunday for the first time in March 2011. We invited a woman with hearing loss from a neighboring church to do sign language interpretation of much of the service and we encouraged our members to invite guests who might appreciate signing. I preached on Jesus' transfiguration (from the lectionary) and included an application that worked with the text and the disability theme. Our people appreciated the emphasis so much that we invited the woman back on Easter Sunday to increase and enhance the many ways we praise—not just on one day, but every day.

Because of Disability Awareness Sunday, the consistory and congregation became more aware of the need to be inclusive in our worship. We have very far to go in order to meet that goal, but at least we made a start.

A follow-up visit from the Reformed Church in America's coordinator for disability concerns, Terry DeYoung, helped us identify other ways we can be more welcoming. Some of those ideas will be incorporated into our building as we look to remodel our facilities. I encourage churches to do this kind of assessment because many of the recommended changes can be done within a very reasonable budget, and these projects are often well received by families looking for memorial gift suggestions.

My advice is not to worry about doing a "perfect" Disability Awareness Sunday. Do the best you can with the resources that are available (through the Network, websites, the quarterly Breaking Barriers newsletter, people and agencies in your region, etc.), and then help your leadership catch a vision of what this might mean for the future of a congregation. It is an ideal way to help a congregation understand what it means to really be a community of believers.

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