Disability Awareness Sunday 2014

Monday October 27th 2014

The Rev Jennifer McWhirter.

The Rev Jennifer McWhirter.

November 16 is designated as Disability Awareness Sunday.

The Rev Jennifer McWhirter, Chairperson of the Church of Ireland’s Working Group on Disability, said this was an appropriate time to highlight some useful statistics relating to disability.

“These remind us both of various different types of disability that might be present in congregations and that not all disabilities are immediately obvious,” Jennifer said.

The Working Group aims to make people think beyond disability and towards access for all and to make people aware of key issues involved in ensuring that churches are as accessible and welcoming as possible both physically and in their culture.

“Churches and church-based organisations can do much to meet people’s worshipping, pastoral and social needs on an inclusive basis and indeed over recent years church buildings across the island have undergone various changes for the better, from modifications to make them wheelchair accessible to providing handrails on entrance steps, for example,” said Jennifer.

“Further improvements could include providing disabled parking spaces or installing a loop system where there isn’t one. Churches and halls should also consider if they have effective evacuation plans for people with a disability. On other fronts, ensuring that large print / braille materials for the sight impaired are available is important and can be further enhanced by incorporating sign translation.”

She added: “Disability Awareness Sunday is a chance for parishes and select vestries to re-evaluate how they can improve access and to come up with proactive plans to make tangible changes for the better in their own contexts.”

Statistics show that in Northern Ireland in 2011 it was assessed that 40 per cent of households had someone with a long term disability; five per cent of the population suffers from some disability and that only eight per cent of disabilities are visible. The breakdown of the figures revealed that disabilities related to mobility accounted for 11.4 per cent, sight 1.7 per cent and hearing 5.1 per cent.

“Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10),” Jennifer said. “If we take these words as His followers seriously it is incumbent upon us to be as open and inclusive as possible so that all people, regardless of ability or disability, can access this ‘full life’ that Jesus offers.

“So, do try to think of Disability Awareness Sunday as an opportunity for your congregation to celebrate the presence and gifts of people with disabilities of whatever kind in your midst and to imagine both new and innovative ministries to engage people with disabilities and also to meet people’s needs practically.”

Further useful resources can be found at www.disabilityaction.org .

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