Disability Awareness Sunday is Jan. 14

By John Coleman

The Eastern PA Conference’s Disability Ministries Committee urges churches to celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday Jan. 14 or on a more convenient date. The UMC’s Book of Discipline calls for every conference and church to celebrate this special occasion annually to increase response to the need for including more disabled persons in the life of our churches.

The committee invites churches that observe Disability Awareness Sunday to receive a special offering for UMCOR’s “Disability Ministries” Advance Special (# 3021054). You can find information and resources online at  umdisabilityministries.org/dasunday. Also visit the committee’s webpage  for more information, and be sure to let them know what your church does to celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday:  Tell Us About Your Church’s Disability Ministry or Disability Awareness Sunday!

“Disability crosses all lines of race, ethnicity, gender, class, etc.,” wrote Bishop Peggy Johnson in “Privilege” her 2017 Bishop’s Blog essay. “Sadly, however, many of our churches are ill-prepared to receive people with disabilities. Not only are they unable to receive them physically, with accessible buildings and services; but often church members have inaccessible “hearts” that fail to welcome disabled visitors. It is even harder to find churches that engage in the greatest form of accessibility of all: empowerment.”

There are many ways churches can improve accessibility. A good start might be to gradually develop a deaf-friendly worship service and inclusion for Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened and Deafblind people who may join your congregation for worship. The Rev. Leo Yates Jr., a consultant on Global Ministries’ United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries offers suggestions. Leo chairs the Baltimore Washington Conference’s Commission on Disability Concerns and is associate pastor of Magothy UMC of the Deaf in Pasadena, Md.

Some adapted recommendations:

  • If you have a sign interpreter, be sure to promote it.
  • Ask a Deaf or hard of hearing person to help lead worship. Doing so would help worshipers see that Deaf people can be church leaders.
  • Include in the worship bulletin a post card of the manual alphabet. (Also, see Wikipedia’s American Manual Alphabet with color photos.)
  • Do not dim the lights all the way as Deaf, hard of hearing and late-deafened people need light to see the sign interpreter and for lip reading.
  • Learn some church-related signs and use them during worship. Here is a YouTube link: youtube.com/watch?v=DEOLN6iXpXU&t=21s
  • Have a children’s choir or a youth choir sign a hymn or song, even if it’s just a stanza or two. Here’s a YouTube channel for several signed songs that are worth considering. youtube.com/user/ConnectRockDeaf
  • Include a short Christian or biblical drama as a visual experience. Perhaps act out a scene from a Scripture passage or the entire passage as a narrator signs. Verses do not necessarily have to be signed by the actors, as long as their gestures and acting are clearly visible. The Good Samaritan story may be an easy drama to do.
  • Use multimedia visuals throughout the service.
  • Use a sound system with a microphone and/or offer an assisted listening device or system. This will assist hard of hearing and late-deafened people who rely on audio to have full inclusion.
  • Be sure to have a few large-print bulletins (and inserts) on hand for any Deafblind individuals. (Not all Deafblind people are fully blind; many are only partially-blind).
  • If you do not have an interpreter, offer a typed copy of the sermon and any worship notes that will be a substitute. Do not panic if a Deaf person attends your service without warning. Some will come regardless of whether there is an interpreter or not. Just be friendly, welcoming and share hospitality with them.
  • Be sure to read Leo’s full article “Deaf-Friendly Worship” on the UM Disability blog.

May all our communities of faith be places where the Good News is accessible to people of all abilities. And may believers with and without disabilities be willing and able to share Christ’s love and hospitality.

Look for a website feature story this week about Lighthouse Fellowship in Glenside, Pa., one congregation that has welcomed and embraced its Deaf neighbors as part of its church family.


Need Congregational Resources?

Consider one of the following:

1. A Brief Guide to Sign Language Interpreting (& how to acquire them)

2. A Guide to Ministry with Hard of Hearing and Late-Deafened People

3. A Guide to Hospitality for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Visitors

4. A Brief Guide to Deafblind Interpreting