In Mark 16:15, Jesus commands his disciples to go all over the world and preach the gospel to everyone. However, sometimes it seems that the church has overlooked a very large group of people – people with disabilities.
Sixty-one million American adults – or one in four Americans – live with a disability and many children struggle with various physical and mental problems. Of course, most pastors and faithful would see themselves as welcoming to these people. However, children with certain chronic conditions, including autism, depression, developmental delays and learning disabilities, are up to twice as likely never to attend religious services.
If the children don’t go to church, neither do their parents, and they don’t get involved in Bible studies either. However, if the church made these meetings more accessible, people with disabilities would likely be more likely to attend.
Here are some tips to help you make your Bible study more engaging, accommodating, and accessible.
1. Gather additional resources
Many people with disabilities suffer from cognitive, hearing and visual impairments. These functional problems can prevent them from understanding the Bible and related documents. Bible study groups can make their lessons more accessible by gathering additional resources that meet the specific needs of their members.
For example, if someone is hard of hearing, you might provide transcripts while watching videos or listen to a podcast. Visually impaired people can enjoy audio recordings of each meeting or audiobooks they can listen to and reflect on before each study session. Also welcome people with intellectual disabilities by providing them with developmentally appropriate material that they can understand.
2. Provide accessible transportation
You can also provide accessible transportation to and from your Bible study. This way, people with reduced mobility can still attend and contribute to the discussion. Buy or rent an accessible wheelchair van with rear or side entry option. Some are also equipped with convertible seats and ramps to maximize comfort and accessibility.
Alternatively, you can find accommodating transit service to help them attend meetings and other group events. Many now use multi-channel and multi-sensory signaling to ensure a smooth ride. Mobile tickets and transport alerts are also widely available so that travelers experience less disruption and unexpected surprises during the journey.
3. Bring them the study
Sometimes transporting people with disabilities is not an option, as is often the case for people who are very immobile and confined to their homes. Perhaps the only way to make Bible study more accessible is to bring the meeting to their home. Be prepared for some objections and remind them that the place doesn’t have to be spotless to accommodate people. Bring food and refreshments to relieve them and create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.
If a person does not feel comfortable receiving other people, take your Bible study online. Set up everyone 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 meet members’ needs. For example, if someone has a chronic illness that requires them to take frequent bathroom breaks, you can make them part of your meeting time. Shortening your study or choosing a different time to meet with you may also provide more opportunities for people with disabilities to attend and contribute to the discussion.
If a member has a developmental disability, consider assigning homework that they can do throughout the week. Restructure your Bible study so that everyone works on the reading and research portion at their own pace. You can then use your meeting time to revisit the topic. This will give everyone more time to prepare so that they can present their own talking points during the group discussion.
5. Ask questions
Creating a more accessible and inclusive space often involves uncomfortable conversations with the people who need accommodations the most. 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 them.
Sometimes the solution is simple, like replacing a seat with an exercise ball to relieve chronic back pain. Other times, solving will involve bigger workarounds and more effort, like providing braille notes or learning sign language. Either way, working together to solve problems and adapt is well worth the extra effort, as it will show others that you care enough about making a change.
Change point of view
People with disabilities experience the world differently from others. Subsequently, they can offer new perspectives and new perspectives on the most mundane topics. In this way, their disability is a super power, allowing them to see and share things that non-disabled people completely ignore.
Therefore, it is important to change your perspective and recognize disability as a different ability, which can add depth and meaning to your Bible study. Keep an open mind as you learn about their needs and perspectives. In turn, you will create a naturally inclusive atmosphere and reach even more people for Christ.