To coincide with International Day for People with Disabilities on 3 December, Christian charity Through the Roof brings us three stories of young adults living with disabilities and explores why it is so important that the church is a place of disability inclusion and relationship.

Becky is a 21-year-old Christian student. Most students find that people are friendly and chatty, after they have overcome their freshers nerves’. But Becky finds people are often afraid to talk to her. Why? Because she is disabled.

Sadly, this is common for many members of the disabled community. Statistics show that 67% of people in the UK feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people. Yet throughout the Bible, God worked through people affected by disability to show His glory. And He continues to do so today.

On 3 December the global community will join together to celebrate the lives of disabled people on International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD). IDPWD is a day dedicated to valuing the contributions of disabled people everywhere. 


But are our churches equally committed to welcoming and celebrating the gifts and insights of disabled people? Or are we missing out on vital perspectives of people who often learn to depend on God in their lives?

At Through the Roof, we are calling for a change of culture towards disability in the UK, starting with the church. The best way to change our attitudes is to hear from disabled people themselves and understand their lived experience. Meet Becky…

"Hello my name is Becky and I am studying applied computing at university. I have quadriplegic cerebral palsy and I am a wheelchair user. I cannot talk, so I use a communication aid with eye gaze technology to enable me to speak. As a disabled person, people who don't know me make a lot of assumptions about me. Most people are too scared to talk to me and usually just stare and ignore me. Some people who do talk to me treat me like I am a baby, as if I can't understand the same things as you. This really annoys me."
Becky TTR article for Dec23
– Becky

Becky has a theory about why people are uncomfortable speaking to her:

I think the biggest barrier is fear: fear of not knowing what to say to a disabled person like me, fear of possibly offending me, or fear of saying the wrong thing to me. People end up saying nothing out of fear which is a shame because like most disabled people, I have a lot to say and I would love to get to know you and make a difference in your life.”

The Bible tells us that There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). Yet our society fills us with fear, so we tend to play it safe’ and say nothing to avoid potential mistakes. But this leaves out many disabled people so they are not fully integrated into church and community life.

Disability theology is not something that comes up often in the average church sermon. But maybe that is the reason we don’t know what to say to disabled people: we haven’t openly talked about disability and answered burning questions such as, are disabled people made in God’s image?

The answer is yes! The image of God is in us all, including disabled and non-disabled people (Genesis 1:27). It is not our physical form or the wiring of our brain that makes us like God, but it is what’s deep inside us, spiritually – so we are all created in the image of God. God loves and values everyone equally – so should we. Let’s see people as Jesus sees them.

At Through the Roof we train and equip Roofbreakers’ – disability champions, that help the church to respond so that everyone is fully included in church life. They are named after the group of friends who broke through the roof’ in the Luke 5 account to lower their paralysed friend down to Jesus.

Meet Triona. Triona is a Roofbreaker…

"I found out that I was autistic when I was 21 and at university. I often find that in small groups, I really thrive in conversation, but the larger the group, the more that barrier gets raised up. You can wonder whether you're going to fit in and be part of the crowd, whether you're going to be accepted, whether you're going to belong. What would make the world a better place for disabled and neurodivergent people is if there was more acceptance of people for who they are. Every person is different and every autistic person is different."
Triona TTR article for Dec23
– Triona

Because of her own experience of autism at church, Triona wanted to help churches to understand, and to break down some of the barriers for other autistic people. So Triona created a video called Supporting autistic individuals in our churches – hopefully the first in a series for Through the Roof.

Our third young adult is Beth. Beth is a third-year medical student. She is a full-time wheelchair user with multiple chronic health conditions. Beth echoes Becky:

"People's attitudes towards disability can act as real barriers. You quite often have people talk to you at arms-length, almost like they don't know how to relate to you. The most important thing is people spending the time to just be open and listen, and work with disabled people. If you can, come alongside them, help advocate for them, and let them flourish to their full ability. I think that people can often expect less from disabled people, and that can lead to you feeling like your contributions aren't welcome or aren't valued. You feel like you can't properly use your God-given gifts to serve, as everyone else can in the church."
Beth TTR article for Dec23
– Beth

Beth reminds us that disabled people are – or would be – a huge blessing in our communities. But the church has not always recognised this. Together, we can change that.

What can I do about disability inclusion?

At Through the Roof, we believe that everyone has a role to play in celebrating and valuing disabled people – including you and your church.

Why not start by nominating a Roofbreaker – or church disability champion in your congregation?

You don’t need to be an expert in disability to be a Roofbreaker. You just need to be open and listen to disabled people, and be willing to help people find ways to remove any obstacles in church life.

Through the Roof can equip your church with free support, resources and training. Join a growing movement of over 600 Roofbreakers today!