Is Your Parish Welcoming to Persons with Disabilities?
Ten Commandments for Welcoming Persons with Disabilities to Church
1. Treat a person with a disability as you would anyone else. Relax when communicating. Rely on natural courtesy, consideration and common sense. Avoid getting flustered or irritated if misunderstandings arise. Repeat yourself if you sense misunderstanding, or ask the person to repeat himself or herself if you do not understand.
2. Address the individual, not an assistant, interpreter or family member.
3. Treat adults with disabilities as adults rather than as children, regardless of the disability.
4. Speak at a normal rate, without exaggeration or overemphasis.
5. Do not be afraid to ask questions about the person’s disability.
7. Allow people to do things for themselves when they want to, even if it takes longer or results in mistakes. Do not always “do for” the person.
8. Offer assistance, but do not impose if help is not desired.
9. During all gatherings or meetings, allow time to attend to personal needs and rest. Be patient.
10. Respect the individual’s personal space and auxiliary aids. Do not lean against or push a wheelchair, pet a service animal in a harness, move wheelchairs, crutches, white canes or other assistive devices out of reach of a person who uses them.
©2000 Archdiocese of Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1800 North Hermitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622-1101. Compiled and edited by David Philippart from materials provided by the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities, 415 Michigan Avenue NE, Suite 240, Washington, DC 20017-1557; 202-529-2933 (voice); 202-529-2934 (tty); 202-529-4678 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org; Mary Jane Owen, Executive Director.
Parishioners who have disabilities do not want our pity! On the contrary, they have gifts and talents to offer to the parish. Many times they are looking for opportunities to serve as committed baptized members of the Church. So, remember to include and invite all interested parishioners to participate in the roles of service which are most comfortable and compatible for them. Together we can make our parishes welcoming communities of faith and love.
US Catholic Conference of Bishops Statements on Including Persons with Disabilities in Parish Life
- Pastoral Statement of US Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities: free download
- Welcome and Justice for Parishioners with Disabilities: A Framework for Access and Inclusion: free download
- Opening Doors of Welcome and Justice/ Parish Guide: available for purchase
- Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities: available for purchase
Rights of the Special Needs Student
Every one of us is brought into life as a very precious gift, formed by our gracious Creator and loved into life by our parents. We come “wrapped” with a variety of qualities, skills, desires, and needs. What we do with the gifts we are and the treasures we become takes a life time of formation and appreciation.
As catechists and pastoral ministers, we have the privilege of preparing and guiding our students to live as faithful, loving followers of Christ. Every student who comes into our care has the right to be catechized and spiritually nurtured by virtue of their baptismal call.
Recognizing the fact that every student is unique, we must look at ways of addressing the specific ways in which we can best make the faith accessible and alive for them.
“Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: ‘Therefore…we are members of one another” (Eph.4:25). Baptism incorporates us into the Church… Just as Baptism is the source of responsibilities and duties, the baptized person also enjoys rights within the Church: to receive the sacraments, to be nourished with the Word of God and to be sustained by the other spiritual helps of the Church.” (Catholic Catechism of the Church, 1267 & 1269) People with disabilities are not to be denied the rights and duties of Baptism.
Children with disabilities should be encouraged to learn, live and share the faith with others to the best of their abilities. Therefore, we are to give them opportunities to share their faith with all they meet. Oftentimes, they serve as models of great inspiration and perseverance to many.
In situations where students with disabilities are included in the regular classroom settings, there is a great deal of learning through a common give and take among all the students. Faith is taking root and coming alive in the daily lived experiences of the whole class. “Evangelization and catechesis for persons with disabilities must be geared in content and method to their particular situation. However, care should be taken to avoid further isolation of persons through these programs which, as far as possible, should be integrated with the normal catechetical activities of the parish.” (Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops in Persons with Disabilities)
How to Include Students with Special Needs in All Areas of Parish Life
Blessed Pope John Paul lI encouraged the inclusion of students with disabilities into the parish religious education programs.
He wrote, “Children and young people who are physically or mentally handicapped come to mind. They have a right, like others of their age, to know the “mystery of faith.” (Catechesi Tradendae, 41)
Grace Harding, M.A, M.S. Ed., Diocese of Pittsburgh, Department for Persons with Disabilities, described the ways in which students who have disabilities can and should be included in our parish religious education programs:
Physical: The religious education of students with disabilities should take place in the same setting as the non-disabled students, i.e., school building, parish church /hall, or family home, so they will have the same opportunity to know each other.
The religious education of the special student should also take place at the same time as their chronological peers.
Spiritual: Special students should take part in all spiritual and liturgical events of their chronological peers. They should be involved in the planning if possible and be visible at the events.
Social: Special students should take part in all the social activities in which their chronological peers in the parish are involved. As with the spiritual activities, they should be part of the planning if possible and be visible at the events.
Academic: Special students should be taught religious education in the same class, side by side with the non-disabled, chronological peers whenever possible. They are a part of the regular religious education program as long as they are able to feel successful in learning the academics required at that level. If the academics begin to become too difficult, a “pull out” support can be initiated for part of the class.
A quality inclusive program will work when supported by caring and interested people such as the DRE, catechist, parent and teacher assistant. Appropriate curriculum resources also provide support to the catechist.
Examples of Inclusion: Models and Degrees
In the inclusive religious education class, the special students should spend as much time as possible with the non-disabled students during each catechetical session. It is important that the non-disabled and special students realize that they are classmates, even though they may have different religious education goals.
At the same time, the level of inclusion is determined individually for each student. Not every student will be fully included on the academic level. A prepared catechist will find ways to include a student on this level whenever possible. Support from a teacher assistant or a “buddy” may be all that is needed for successful inclusion. When developing programs to serve students within a parish, remember that inclusion is for everyone, but it does not have to look the same!
Please note: these principles will apply to students who have developmental disabilities (e.g. Down Syndrome, autism, learning disabilities), as well as sensory and other disabilities.
The following examples of inclusive religious education begin with the most inclusive and conclude with the least inclusive:
1. The student is fully included in the regular religious education program and is experiencing success with the curriculum used for the typical child.
2. The student is included in the regular class, but requires tutoring with the regular curriculum within the classroom. A “peer tutor” is assigned for this student.
3. The student is included in the regular religious education program; however, this student needs additional help in learning concepts. He/she needs more help than a “peer tutor.” This student will remain in the classroom for the following:
- Opening prayer
- Presentation of the learning concept
- Any liturgical activity
- Any musical activity
- Any arts and crafts activity
He/she student is removed from the classroom for individual instruction on the actual learning objective.
4. The student is in the regular classroom for the following:
- Opening prayer
- Liturgical activity
The student is removed from the regular classroom and is taught in a small group or individually using the lessons from the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Program to Improve Religious Education for Children and Adults with Intellectual Disabilities. The student is educated in the same building at the same time as his/her typical peers. The student joins his/her chronological age group for all spiritual and social activities.
5. A student attends the first part of the class only while the learning objective is taught from the regular textbook. There is also supportive catechesis with the regular textbook. Supportive catechesis with the Kennedy Curriculum is done at home.
6. Homeschooling: the student is taught at home using the Kennedy Curriculum. The student is welcomed at any spiritual and social activities of his chronological peers whenever it is possible.
Annual Mass of Awareness with Bishop Bambera: Celebrating Persons with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, Mar 2, 2014, 10AM, St. Peter’s Cathedral, Scranton, PA
Sample Bulletin Notice for Special Education Teacher for Religious Education
Special Ed Teacher Needed for Religious Education Program: Teacher with background in special education is needed to help with religious instruction for a child with disabilities. Commitment would involve one-on-one work with the student, collaborating with the grade-level catechist to include the student with his/her peers in the classroom and acting as an aide when student is included with peers. Support and appropriate curriculum provided. Please call DRE at 570-XXX-XXXX.
Curricula for Special Needs Students
- The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Curriculum: a leveled religious education program which was designed by the Department for Persons with Disabilities in the Diocese of Pittsburgh with a grant from the Kennedy Foundation. For both adults and children. Can be used for a group of special needs students, one-on-one, pull-out, sacramental preparation amd reinforcement. Creative lessons are spelled out step-by-step. (https://www.comcenter.com/product/RCLB-S6900/Rose-Fitzgerald-Kennedy-Program-Religious-Education-for-Children-and-Adults-with-Special-Needs/)
- SPRED is a process of religious education for persons with developmental disabilities (children – adults) who come together in small communities for catechesis, faith sharing and celebration.
The groups engage in activities that are quieting and calming in preparation for the catechesis. SPRED helps to integrate persons with developmental disabilities into the life of their parishes through this process of religious education.
- Interested in establishing a program? Contact the Office for Parish Life.
- Current SPRED groups in Diocese
- St. Teresa’s Parish, Shavertown, for children
- Office for Parish Life, Scranton, for adults. Dates for 2014:
Jan 29, Feb 12 & 26, Mar 12 & 26 and Apr 9 – 6:30-8PM
- Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Dupont, for adults. Dates for 2014:
Jan 23, Feb 6, Mar 13 & 27, Apr 10 & May 1 & 8 – 6:30-8:30PM
- Loyola Press Sacramental Preparation: An adaptive sacramental preparation program for First Penance, First Eucharist and Confirmation for persons with autism or other special needs, ages 7-adult: www.loyolapress.com
Opening Doors: an hour-long disabilities awareness program for grade school students; contact the Office for Parish Life to set up a date.
- National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities sponsored by the USCCB: www.ncpd.org
- St. Joseph’s Center: http://www.stjosephscenter.org/
- ARC ( a group[ that advocates for the rights of persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities and provides social programs and services): http://www.thearcnepa.org/index.html
- Northeast Autism Center; http://northeast-autism.org/index.htm
- SAFE (Supporting Autism and families Everywhere): http://www.autismsafe.org/
- SPRED: http://www.spred-chicago.org/
- Employment Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities: Non-profit AHEDD
- Center for Independent Living: https://mycil.org/
Articles on Ministry with Persons with Devlopmental/Intellectual Disabilities
“Real Presence,” U.S. Catholic, Dec. 2013
“Respect Life: Persons with Disabilities,” USCCB, 2011
- Training of Parish Advocates for Persons with Disabilities: A parish advocate is a person who reaches out to persons with disabilities to make sure they are welcomed and aware of what is happening in the life of their parish. The advocate can also bring to the attention of the parish staff any special needs the persons with disabilities may have. Further, the advocate makes sure that the needs of the persons with disabilities are included in parish planning so that the persons with disabilities have full access to parish events. Contact the Office for Parish Life for training and assistance in setting up advocacy in your parish.
- “That All May Worship” is a multi-disciplinary, interfaith workshop held annually at John Heinz Rehabilitation Services in Wilkes-Barre. Experts from many different fields speak on the topic of the day. Next workshop: October 16, 2014. Call Marianne Sailus at 570-826-3800 for more information or to register.
Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Scranton with Programs for Students with Special Needs
Holy Redeemer High School (9-12) 159 S. Pennsylvania Boulevard, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701
Holy Cross High School (9-12) 501 E. Drinker Street, Dunmore, PA 18512
Good Shepherd Academy (PK-8 & I.I.) 316 N. Maple Avenue, Kingston, PA 18704
All Saints Academy (PK-8 & I. I.) 1425 Jackson Street, Scranton, PA 18504