Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Deaf Awareness means Deaf Empowerment

Deaf Awareness Means Deaf Empowerment
By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. 

September is Deaf Awareness Month. It's a time to learn about Deaf culture, sign language (and even learn some sign phrases), and Deaf history. It's also a good time to become more sensitive to Deaf culture, improve accessibility in our churches, and do a better job of empowering Deaf and hard of hearing people. 

Deaf awareness also includes an understanding of what "hearing privilege" is. A simple explanation of having a privilege is to recognize having an advantage or having power that others, or a group, does not have. Here are some examples of hearing privilege.

Hearing people:

  • Are able to apply to any university they choose without discrimination, and do not have to worry whether an interpreter will be available to interpret when they attend said university.
  • Can have direct communication with their peers and teachers in a classroom without the use of an interpreter.
  • Do not have to worry about funding for interpreters.
  • Do not have to worry about finding an interpreter at a medical office, in dealing with police, or other public agencies.
  • Get to have full communication with parents and family in their first language.
  • Get to share the same cultural values as their family.
  • Don’t have to defend and fight to have their language recognized and respected.
  • Can apply at any job they choose without fear of discrimination.
  • Can go to a museum or special events without needing an interpreter.

Certainly, the list is just a snippet (see more examples here) and can be more specific to communities or circumstances. The point of this list is to heighten our awareness, to be more sensitive, and to be intentional in empowering Deaf and hard of hearing people in our faith communities.

Most of us may think that "providing" an interpreter or having a hearing loop system is what we need to do to be inviting of Deaf and hard of hearing people. Yet, this is exactly the point. Including or providing (being inclusive) is not the same as being empowering. Empowering is sharing the power or giving up power in order for a person (someone without it) to have power. When we do not empower others, then it is often about us not wanting to give up power and control. It might be more about keeping status or due to insecurity when we do not empower others. Empowering others is Christ-like and it is what Jesus showed us in his ministry throughout Galilee. For example, Jesus empowered the seventy-two disciples to share in the work and ministry. When we empower others, we are intentionally sharing grace.

One church in the state of Maryland does a great job in empowering Deaf parishioners. Besides having a sign language interpreter, the church elected the Deaf person a lay leader. A church in Washington state voted for the Deaf person to be the lay member to annual conference. Talk about sharing power! The lay member to annual conference has a seat on a few church committees. 

More importantly, this type of empowerment models to the church and to the community that ALL people are valued and are welcomed here. A church in Florida had a supportive pastor who empowered a Deaf couple to be representatives at their annual conference. At their home church, they are often Scripture readers and lead in other ways. There are other churches doing these and more; however, it’s only a start as we need to continually strive for more diversity that better represents the body of Christ.

Raising awareness couldn't be easier during Deaf Awareness Month. Try these ideas:

For more Deaf awareness ideas, for resources, and considerations for establishing a Deaf ministry, go to the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries webpage for congregational resources

About the writer: Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. is a provisional deacon serving in the Baltimore Washington Conference. He serves on the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DMC Funding Update

NEWS UPDATE, September 11, 2017

“Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. The Lord’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”   Isaiah 40:4-5

On August 11, 2017, the DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church was informed that the Global Health Division of the General Board of Global Ministries will stop funding us as of May 31, 2018. After many years of being our home, they no longer have a mandate in the Book of Discipline to include us in their budget. In fact, our committee was quietly erased from the Discipline altogether. Global Health now has responsibility only for “Encouraging awareness of the gifts, graces, assets, and needs of persons with special physical, mental, and other developmental needs, fostering a culture of inclusivity within The United Methodist Church as a place where people with special needs will be embraced in all aspects of worship, leadership, and ministry.”

The DisAbility Ministries Committee does not approve of the changes nor of the way that they were made. Providing the advocacy, education, and empowerment that are needed so that everyone will find a place to belong in the United Methodist Church requires much more than encouraging awareness and fostering inclusivity. It requires listening to the voices of people with disabilities and not making changes about us without us.

We will continue to provide resources, grants, and education to people engaged in DisAbility Ministries. We will move forward to expand our relationships with others in ministry. We will keep on expanding our capabilities by adding new resource people. We will not stop until all United Methodists everywhere have been reached and we have, through them, “made disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” disciples who include people with disabilities.

We are asking for your help in two ways:

Please consider writing a letter to the General Board of Global Ministries, Global Health Division, recounting your personal experiences, 
  • If you have been impacted by a workshop or training that we have provided,
  • if you have been motivated by hearing one of us preach or speak,
  • if you have found our website or printed-out resources helpful,
  • if you have received a grant to help improve accessibility or programming.

Letters can be sent to Thomas Kemper (, Dr. Olusimbo Ige (, and Sabrina Rodgers (

2.  Please also consider donating to our Advance, #3021054 through the General Board of Global Ministries at

Above all, remember that we are still here to serve you. Thank you for your support!

Yours in service to Christ,

Sharon McCart
Chair, DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church

Friday, September 1, 2017

News and notes from AMD, 9/1/17

A trip to the Philippines

Rooted in Rights "Like the Mic"; this video is captioned and audio described, so it's a good demonstration, as well as a reminder of accommodating everyone:

Jean Vanier: background and interview:

Mental Health Ministries newsletter, September

"Usefulness" is not a measure of human worth

Disaster disability assistance agency

There will not be a newsletter next week. A happy Labor Day, y'all!


Click here for a list of events of interest to people in disability ministry.
UMAMD logo with the UM Cross and Flame and several disability symbols
This newsletter is generally issued weekly by the
United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities,
a caucus of the United Methodist Church.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

A trip to the Philippines -- Sharon McCart

My Trip to the Philippines, July 24 – August 5, 2017

By Sharon McCart, Chair, DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church

I met with Joy in a nondescript chain restaurant. I had been wanting to go to the Philippines since 2009, and when she invited me as one recipient in a mass e-mail, I wondered if this might be the time for me to go. There in the restaurant, she told me about the planned trip. I asked questions. It was an ordinary conversation until she said, “Part of this year’s trip will be to help the faculty of a school learn how to better include students with disabilities.” Suddenly the noisy restaurant seemed to go silent. I didn’t know what to say and I just looked at her. She knows how passionate I am about inclusion for people with disabilities. She had just answered my unspoken question, “What can I contribute to this team?”
Joy is the chair of the Philippines Task Force of the California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Task Force has sent teams nearly every year for about eight years now. The purposes of these trips have been fact-finding and to stand in solidarity with the marginalized and those working for justice in the Philippines. Until that moment, I wasn’t sure if that was something I was called to do. I was sympathetic and supportive, but that wasn’t enough to get me to sign up. I needed the trip to connect with my call to advocate for inclusion of people with disabilities, both within the Church and outside of it.

Suddenly, I found it did. And I knew I would go.

The entire trip was incredible, but my focus here is disability ministry, so I will restrain myself to that topic. One evening we went to dinner with two United Methodist deaconesses, Zarla Raguindin and Norma Dollaga. I had met Deaconess Zarla in Louisville at UMW Assembly 2014 when she attended the workshop I co-taught with Lynn Swedberg. She is doing great work in disability ministries, holding trainings and events and even travelling to Jakarta and Indonesia to share her knowledge in those places. Deaconess Norma was instrumental in raising funds to build the school we were going to visit, among other accomplishments in her work for a justice organization called “Rise Up.” We met a number of deaconesses during our trip, but connecting with Zarla was important to me because of the disability ministries connection. It was encouraging and exciting to learn about her work and talk about ways we might support each other. She will be in China for the next three years to earn her PhD. Her research topic is on best practices for advocacy and I look forward to reading her thesis very much.

Joy and I then travelled to the state of Mindanao. On the way to the school where we would spend four days, we stopped to tour St. Genevieve Hospital, which is currently under construction in the town of Tagum. There are no medical facilities specifically for the indigenous (Lumad) peoples, and they typically encounter less than welcoming attitudes at other hospitals, so the Mindanao Foundation for Medical Disaster Preparedness and Response, Inc. decided to build a hospital to serve their needs. The administrator, Asha A. Mendez, RN, and I talked about the great need to provide psychological counseling as well as medical care for the Lumads who have been exploited by foreign corporations, targeted by the Philippine military, and denied assistance from their own government when they were starving because of drought.

From Tagum, we travelled through acres and acres of banana plantations to the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao (CTCSM), which is a Lumad school. Previously the Lumad people have remained illiterate or they were educated in schools with the purpose of pursuing careers away from their own communities. This residential school prepares them to help their own communities. It is culturally sensitive and includes education in organic farming and herbal medicine. Traditional dancing and music are encouraged. Despite the word “college” in the name, the school educates children from preschool through high school. Next year they will add college classes.

Part of the culture, as in many places, holds a stigma about disability. The school administrator and the faculty were not completely forthcoming about disability in their community. It was not until the end of our time there that I sat down with the lead clinic worker, Jill, and we talked about the needs of the students. There are students with ADHD and learning disabilities and other needs. Jill gave me a list of resources that would be helpful. This made me feel that I was doing at least some of what I had come to do.

There are also many students who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is understandable because many of them came from militarized areas where there is daily conflict. Some of the children saw a school administrator shot in front of them. Others heard bombings and gunfire daily at the schools they were at previously. Some had lost parents and siblings to the fighting between the indigenous people and the military. The political situation there is violent, and the children pay a price. The faculty is getting training to help with this. There are a number of students on medication for anxiety and other mental illnesses, but the teachers still need to know what to do when a student is struggling. I was grateful to know that this training is taking place.

After four days at the school, we returned to Manila. When we were in Manila the week before, we had met Jenn Panelo Ferariza from the United Methodist Women’s Board, a conference-wide board. She had proposed gathering a few other women from the board and meeting with us before we left for the United States and we had eagerly said yes. The last day of our trip, then, we met with Jenn, who had invited Liza Adamos Cortez and Pastor Marie Sol Villalon to join her. They shared with us about the work they were doing to help the victims of human trafficking and to translate Vacation Bible School curriculum, including adding Philippines-relevant stories. When they finished, I gave them each a packet of disability ministry information and resources and talked a bit about the work of the DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church.
We also talked about Deaconess Zarla’s work. Soon I found that we were planning to have a Disability Ministries Consultation in Manila in the summer of 2018 and I realized that I would return to this country that had shown me both its beauty and its hardships. Dates will soon be set for the Consultation and we will begin planning in earnest.

The conversation then shifted and the women spoke for several minutes in Tagalog, which I do not understand. When they stopped, they looked at me and said, “We were just discussing which conference board the Disability Committee will be under.” The Philippines Central Conference does not have a Disability Committee yet and they were deciding to propose one! This is great news! A centralized committee to provide trainings and resources will help the churches of the Philippines to become more welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities!

This is how my relationship with people in the Philippines has begun. I can hardly wait to see where it will go!

Friday, August 25, 2017

News and notes from AMD, 8/25/2017

NYT disability series: why is our existence as humans still denied?

Long, and somewhat political, but also explains modern attitudes toward disability and how it has changed over two centuries:

Person first discussion

Adult disability ministry

Photos: Ghana Deaf Ministries

The case for faith in bipolar depression


Click here for a list of events of interest to people in disability ministry.
UMAMD logo with the UM Cross and Flame and several disability symbols
This newsletter is generally issued weekly by the
United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities,
a caucus of the United Methodist Church.

Click here to join this e-mail list.
Visit us on the web or Facebook