In Mark 16:15, Jesus commands his disciples to go throughout the world and preach the gospel to all people. However, sometimes it seems the church has forgotten about one very large group of people — those with disabilities.
Sixty-one million U.S. adults — or one in four Americans — live with a disability, and many children struggle with various physical and mental issues. Of course, most pastors and churchgoers would consider themselves welcoming to these individuals. However, kids with certain chronic conditions, including autism, depression, developmental delays and learning disabilities, are up to two times more likely to never attend religious services.
If kids aren’t going to church, neither are their parents, nor are they getting involved in Bible studies. However, if the church made these meetings more accessible, people with disabilities would probably be more apt to attend.
Here are a few tips to help make your Bible study more inviting, accommodating and accessible.
1. Gather Additional Resources
Many people with disabilities struggle with cognitive, audial and visual impairments. These functional issues can keep them from understanding the Bible and related materials. Bible study groups can make their lessons more accessible by gathering additional resources that cater to their members’ specific needs.
For instance, if someone is hard of hearing, you might provide transcripts while watching videos or listening to a podcast. Those with visual impairments may appreciate audio recordings of each meeting or audiobooks they can listen to and think about before each study session. Accommodate those with intellectual disabilities, too, by providing developmentally appropriate materials they can understand.
2. Provide Accessible Transportation
You might also provide accessible transportation to and from your Bible study. This way, those with mobility difficulties can still attend and contribute to the discussion. Purchase or rent a wheelchair-accessible van with rear or side entry options. Some also come with convertible seating and ramps to maximize comfort and accessibility.
Alternatively, you can find an accommodating public transportation service to help them attend meetings and other group events. Many now use multichannel and multisensory signage to ensure a smooth ride. Mobile tickets and transportation alerts are also widely available so travelers experience fewer disruptions and unexpected surprises during the commute.
3. Take the Study to Them
Sometimes, transporting people with disabilities isn’t an option, as is often the case with highly immobile and homebound individuals. The only way to make Bible study more accessible may be to take the meeting to them. Prepare for some objections and remind them that the place doesn’t have to be spotless to host people. Bring food and refreshments to take the pressure off them and create a welcoming, inclusive environment for everyone.
If an individual doesn’t feel comfortable having others over, take your Bible study online. Set everyone up with a Zoom account and meet virtually. This way, everyone can engage in fellowship and build relationships without distance getting in the way.
4. Restructure Your Study
Another great way to make your study sessions more accessible is to restructure them to suit members’ needs. For example, if someone has a chronic disease that requires them to take frequent bathroom breaks, you could build them into your meeting time. Shortening your study or choosing a different time to meet may also provide more opportunities for individuals with disabilities to attend and contribute to the discussion.
If a member has intellectual disabilities, consider assigning homework they can complete throughout the week. Restructure your Bible study so everyone works on the reading and research portion on their own time. You can then use your meeting time to review the topic. Doing so will give everyone more time to prepare so they can present their own talking points when it’s time for group discussion.
5. Ask Questions
Creating a more accessible and inclusive space often involves uncomfortable conversations with individuals who require the most accommodations. In this case, it’s important not to make assumptions about what they might need. Ask them directly what works best for them and how the group can help.
Sometimes, the solution is simple, like replacing one seat with an exercise ball to relieve chronic back pain. Other times, the resolution will involve bigger workarounds and more effort, like providing notes in braille or learning sign language. Either way, working together to troubleshoot and accommodate is well worth the extra effort because it’ll show others you care enough to make a change.
Changing Your Perspective
People with disabilities experience the world differently than others. Subsequently, they can offer fresh perspectives and new outlooks on even the most mundane topics. In this way, their disability is a superpower, allowing them to see and share things that nondisabled persons are completely unaware of.
Therefore, it’s important to change your perspective and recognize disability as a different ability, one that can add depth and meaning to your Bible study. Keep an open mind as you learn about their needs and viewpoints. In turn, you’ll create a naturally inclusive atmosphere and reach even more people for Christ.