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This article in a part of our Disability Concerns Canada Summer 2022 newsletter. Our theme this season is coming together.

As we continue our happy jaunt around the country meeting various Disability Concerns Canada Regional Advocates, we travel to Classis Huron in south-central Ontario to connect with Rynie and Len Bakelaar.

The Bakelaars have worked together as an advocacy team since 1997 when they attended a large Disability Concerns conference and were deeply touched by meeting the late Ralph Bus. “Ralph had obvious physical limitations, but was a gifted and motivated speaker,” explain the Bakelaars.

“We could see not all churches were welcoming places for people with disabilities. This was something we could work on, and hopefully, bring about an awareness that would result in positive change.”

Dreaming of churches as places where everybody is a valued part of the family, they identify accessibility as crucial. “We strive for the day accessibility in architecture, programs, and attitudes will be front and centre within the leadership of the church as they plan out the year.”

One challenge has been connecting with all 28 Church Advocates in their classis during the pandemic. While they hope to add another RA to their team to cover other areas of the classis, they find it immensely rewarding when a connection happens, even if not face-to-face. 

“Staying in touch with fellow advocates is a critical part of being an RA,” they say. One way they do this is by sending out a newsletter three or four times a year.

The Bakelaars are firm believers in the importance of teamwork in advocacy, as this fosters support, encouragement, and accountability. “We’ve done this together as a married couple from the start and value each other's insights,” they say. “Being a team means both of you attend events and training opportunities, as well as co-present.”

This allows each person to evaluate what they took away from a training opportunity or gathering and how to practically apply it. It also fosters collaboration.

“As team members, you know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” the Bakelaars say. “You trust each other and know you can depend on each other. With encouragement, you build up confidence.

Above all, they strive for inclusion in churches, which they say starts with church leaders.

“Advocates need to demonstrate to teachers how some programs leave some children out. We need to inspire the worship team to use language and visuals that are meaningful to those who have learning disabilities. We can motivate the pastor to use the screen more with words and pictures to bring clarity to their message.”

“We must encourage that all events, from regular Bible study to congregational gatherings, be accessible for all,” they say. 

“Advocacy means there are no persons left on the sidelines. Everyone knows what the church family is up to, and each is welcome to be part of it in whatever way possible.”

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