The Games: an opportunity to be more inclusive
The Paralympics is the world's second largest sporting event and provides churches with an immense opportunity to both engage with their communities and profile the needs of the most vulnerable and excluded people group in our society.
John Naudé, chairman of Churches for All, the Christian disability network, believes "the Paralympics and sport generally, more than the Church, is leading the way in providing recognition and opportunities for the equal, but unique and differing, abilities of disabled men and women. The time has come for us, as the Church, to reclaim our role and responsibilities".
Attitudes to disability
To quote Tim Wood, CEO of Through the Roof: "could do better sums it up". He says churches who reach out to those with disabilities indicate they get far more back than they give, but unfortunately such churches are in the minority - a shocking shame as there are more than 10 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability in Britain (Family Resources Survey 2009-10). Tim believes that a lot of churches are not sure where to start, and charities like his seek to equip them. The apostle Paul makes it clear in Corinthians that if we believe disabled people have nothing to offer, we are mistaken: "On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable." John explains Churches for All's viewpoint, saying: "The Church is disabled by not having disabled people in it."
The BMS, the UK's Baptist Unions, More than Gold, Verité Sport and Through the Roof have worked together to provide a resource to inspire churches to "celebrate the faith and excellence of Paralympians, address issues of global injustice and improve inclusion of people with disabilities". Called Undefeated, it is available from January.
If your church is gearing up for the missional opportunities the Olympics provides, why not simply extend your initiatives into the Paralympics too? As Tim Wood encourages: "Use the Olympics as a warm-up and hit the ground running for the Paralympics so you can do it even better."
For more information, resources and ideas, visit:
How churches can be more inclusive
These simple recommendations from Through the Roof can be used as a checklist to see how inclusive your church is currently, and to give you ideas on how to improve.
- Welcome enquiries from, and be open to, disabled people so they feel they belong
- Offer reserved parking/a drop-off point
- Offer "step-free" access by giving level/ramped entry to a building
- Provide accessible toilets
- Have a loop system in operation and use sign language interpreters, and/or the provision of speech-to-text/captioning, when required
- Use simple, jargon-free language
- Supply written information in large print (font size 18) and/or alternative formats (eg audio, electronic, Braille, clear/pictorial signs for people with learning disabilities)
- Make a quiet space available during the main meeting for those who need time-out
- Have diffused lighting to benefit people with sight loss
- Offer seating (some with arms) near the entrance/exit
- Provide a disability co-ordinator to champion issues and initiate training on disability
- Speak directly to disabled people, assume nothing and offer a sensitive welcome and pastoral assistance
- Offer commentary/audio description to those unable to see the screen/stage
- Adopt a can-do culture with an inclusive ethos, valuing all and addressing people's needs on an individual basis
- Intentionally encourage and enable disabled people to contribute to church life through using their gifts