Welcoming Congregations: Accessibility, Inclusion, and Faith Communities

It’s a busy time of year for faith communities. Services for Easter, Passover seders, Nowruz celebrations, and more events are happening in spiritual centers around the world. For people with disabilities, access to these spiritual connections can be important to remaining active in their communities of choice. According to the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Inclusion for Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities at Temple University, religious faith and/or spirituality can play a major role in recovery for individuals with mental health conditions, and participation in the life of a chosen congregation provides a strong and reassuring tie to everyday community life. A study in Rehabilitation Nursing found that quality of life was strongly tied to spiritual well-being for people with paraplegia. Another study in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities shared the perspectives of 20 young adults with developmental disabilities on faith and disability. There are many ways faith communities can promote full inclusion of their members with disabilities: improving physical access to worship spaces and meetings, arranging for interpreted services and materials in alternative formats, and partnering with local support organizations are just a few suggestions.

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA National Networks have partnered with Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition  (IDAC), a program of the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Collaborative on Faith and Disability, and the ADA Legacy Project, to encourage faith communities to promote the faith community pledge (http://www.aapd.com/resources/press-room/aapd-ada-and-faith-communities.html). The IDAC offers an excellent collection of resources for faith communities working toward full inclusion. Congregations in the US can always reach out to their local ADA National Network center (800/949-4232) for assistance in making their facilities and programs accessible to all.

The TU Collaborative recently published Developing Welcoming Religious Communities:  Inspiring Examples of Faith-Based Initiatives to Help Individuals with Mental Health Conditions Participate Fully in the Life of Religious CongregationThis report is the result of a survey of faith communities who share their mental health outreach activities, as well as discuss common barriers to establishing welcoming congregations they experience and their strategies that have helped create welcoming congregations within well-established mental health ministries.

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