Creating Welcoming Parish Communities
Ten Commandments for Welcoming Persons with Disabilities to Church
- 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.
- Address the individual, not an assistant, interpreter or family member.
- Treat adults with disabilities as adults rather than as children, regardless of the disability.
- Speak at a normal rate, without exaggeration or overemphasis.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions about the person’s disability.
- To facilitate communication, have pads of paper and pencils available in all meeting rooms and other gathering places on parish property. Use them when helpful.
- 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.
- Offer assistance, but do not impose if help is not desired.
- During all gatherings or meetings, allow time to attend to personal needs and rest. Be patient.
- 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.
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.
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
Saint 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.
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 and 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.
- 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: loyolapress.com
- National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities sponsored by the USCCB: ncpd.org
- 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/
Articles on Ministry with Persons with Developmental/Intellectual Disabilities
“Real Presence,” U.S. Catholic, Dec. 2013
“Respect Life: Persons with Disabilities,” USCCB, 2011
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