Friday, January 29, 2016

Disability Awareness Sunday -- Leo Yates Jr.

Disability Awareness Sunday
By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.
When entering the sanctuary, have you ever looked around to see who is at church that day? I think most of us do.
If we have someone in mind, we tend to look for that person. But, what about looking around to see who isn’t there? Most of us, I expect, do this less often.
Disability Awareness Sunday is observed once a year (sometimes more often) and it is an opportunity to do just that – look around to see who isn’t in worship. It is also a time to acknowledge our need to invite individuals with disabilities and their families to be a part of our worship experience and to be a part of our worship community. 
That’s the beginning: Disability Awareness Sunday is more than looking for who is missing. It is also a time of educating and sensitizing parishioners, the church, and our surrounding communities about disability awareness. To most people, that would bring thoughts of the need to remove barriers, which is important, but again, only a beginning. We also need to challenge biases and prejudices, ponder and repent for our complacency on the matter, learn to become advocates, and recognize people with disabilities as a vital part of our faith community.
I love what Jesus said to his disciples in John’s Gospel: “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). Observing Disability Awareness Sunday is one way of showing the church’s love (Christ’s love) to people in the disability community.
Each annual conference is charged to observe Disability Awareness Sunday on an appointed Sunday. In my own Baltimore-Washington Conference, this is February 7, 2016. Some annual conferences follow state disability commissions and observe Disability Awareness Sunday in February or March. Check with your annual conference for your date.
Not sure how to observe it? The Disabilities Committee of The United Methodist Church has a plethora of resources on their website. Look under the picture and you will see that there is a page just for Disability Awareness Sunday materials. The newest of these is the BWC’s Disability Awareness Sunday Church Kit. There are also recommendations from the California-Pacific Conference and the Virginia Conference, among others.
There are also many resources available from the Committee on Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries. One is our e-book, Breaking the Sound Barrier in Your Church. Another is an ASL glossary of church terms, and there are many others, including information on captioning, sound systems, and hearing aids.
My mother has multiple disabilities and my father is Deaf-blind. When I bring them to church, I want to bring them to a house of worship that is accessible and shows hospitality to everyone, especially them. Most of us, I’m sure, feel the same. May this year’s Disability Awareness Sunday bring individuals with disabilities and their families to your church, not just for that day, but help your church to be the place that they can call home. 

 Leo is a member of the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries, and the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities.

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