The disability advocates in the Diocese of Buffalo has a new name. It is now the Disability Inclusion Team. Led by Dennis Mahaney, director of the Office of Evangelization and Parish Life, the group's goal is to increase awareness and inclusion of individuals with disabilities in parishes throughout the Diocese of Buffalo. This is done through opening doors, minds and hearts to change.
Doors are opened through access to church spaces. Minds are opened through awareness of what people with disabilities need in order to grow in faith and feel that they belong to the Church. Hearts are opened by demonstrating that all people have diverse abilities and everyone has a place in the mission and ministry of the Church.
The Disability Inclusion Team met over the summer and decided to focus largely on an agenda of inclusion. Comprised of local disability experts and parish advocates from throughout the diocese, the group seeks to support parish advocates to provide outreach to those excluded from parish life due to physical, mental or emotional limitations. The ultimate goal is to develop a welcoming and inclusive approach in all parishes to all people, regardless of how differently-abled we may be.
Inclusion seemed like a fitting goal to focus upon: the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. The Disability Inclusion Team wants to assist parish communities to include people of differing abilities into the Church community. The goal is not to segregate, but rather to include everyone in our Church. This is an essential attitude if the Church is to succeed in the new evangelization. We profess that each person in a Church body is a vital part of the community; everyone has strengths that provide value to the congregation.
One way to include all people is to make sure everyone has a voice. For instance, when planning church events, consider asking people with disabilities how to best accommodate their needs. Also, examine the physical plant of the church facilities to discover where modifications need to be made for people with physical limitations. Perhaps handrails need to be installed, door handles changed or large-print books provided. Perhaps it is as simple as educating, coaching and equipping the greeters at the doors of the church.
Above all, remember that despite individual differences we are all more alike than different. We are all differently-abled and most of us at some point will be in some way temporarily disabled. We are all Christians and should treat one another as Jesus would treat us. Look for commonalities; then your comfort level, positive interactions and parish vitality will grow.
For more information email Laura Seil Ruszczyk.
Laura Seil Ruszczyk is a parish advocate for the disabled and chronically ill at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Hamburg. She runs a HopeKeepers group at the parish, a support group for those with chronic physical illness. The group resumes meeting in September.