Preparing Your Ministry to Receive Individuals with Disabilities

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Kids at churchBefore you know it, school will be starting and your children’s and youth ministries will be starting again. How can you prepare your church to welcome the magnificent variety of God’s children into your community this ministry year? Director of Church Services Barbara J. Newman shares four tips for preparing your ministry to receive individuals at all levels of ability this year.

1. Offer a preview on your website.

“Something I’ve been recommending to many churches lately is to utilize your church website to give a preview of what visitors can expect at your church,” said Barbara J. Newman. “Similar to checking out hotel photos and your seat on an airplane prior to a trip, some individuals will benefit from photos or a video of what they can expect when they come to your church, church school class, or youth group.”

What does worship look like at your church? What kind of music can one expect? Who are the key people a child or teenager might meet? What does the building look like? Consider including photos, video, or music snippets on your website for potential members to use in getting to know your church. We share other items to consider on your website in this post.

2. Work with parents to create an information story.

Church Welcome StoryUsing elements from your website above and more personalized photos, create a story about what MAY happen when this individual comes to your church or a specific ministry. (For a pre-written story with customizable pages, consider the Church Welcome Story by Barbara J. Newman.) You can show details such as where they might pick up snack during children’s church, where they may stand when they sing in the choir, some of the friends they may meet on Wednesday night, and other details of their time at the church program.

“It is important to include words such as ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, and ‘probably’ in your preview so that if the order or details change, your story is still accurate,” shared Newman, “Also, try to stay away from giving specific times, and instead provide a sequence of events. Some individuals get upset if you are off by a minute or two if the specific time is listed.”

3. Ask the right questions.

The information you collect about an individual during the intake process can help you and appropriate leaders understand their gifts and needs, and use this information to create an environment where they are included and supported.

As you’re getting to know individuals and families at the beginning of the year, consider asking them to complete a survey to help you get to know God’s handiwork in their son or daughter. (Don’t worry, we have already created the survey for you — you can download it for free here)! This survey asks questions such as:

  • What activities does your family member enjoy doing the most?
  • Tell me a bit about your story. What has your journey been like over the last few years.
  • What are your goals and dreams for your family member as it relates to the church environment?
  • What is your biggest concern for that type of environment?

We invite you to use the information collected on this survey to create a confidential “welcome page” to share with appropriate leaders so that they can get to know God’s knitting pattern in this individual and create a place for him or her to grow in Christ.

4. Be equipped with the right tools.

“The furniture, seating options, toys, writing instruments, and other environmental factors can tell you a lot about how a school or church thinks about children,” said Newman. “I encourage children’s ministries to have a variety of seating options and attention tools (think wiggle cushions, carpet squares, thera-band and exercise balls), writing tools (such as fidget pencils and various pencil grips), and reading tools (like highlighter tape and EZC Readers) to accommodate for a variety of learning and attention supports that children need.”

Inclusion Tool KitWhen parents are determining if a church or program is the right fit for their son or daughter, the ministry setting helps them know if a church is open to a variety of individuals. “At CLC Network, we wanted to make it easy for churches and schools to try out different attention, writing, and reading tools, so we created the Inclusion Tool Kit. The kit contains tools with instructions and websites to create or order more. I always recommend that anyone that works with kids give these tools a try!” said Newman.

 

Barbara J. Newman photoBarbara J. Newman is the director of church services and a teacher consultant at CLC Network.

photo credit: 20120801-519 via photopin (license)

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Six Tips for Celebrating America’s Independence Day

Six Tips for Celebrating America's Independence Day imageIt is almost the Fourth of July, which for many families in the United States is a time of festivity and celebration as we commemorate our nation’s independence with colorful parades, juicy BBQ’s, loud concerts, and booming fireworks.  These activities can bring many changes in routine and sensory stimulations that may be exciting for some individuals, but difficult for others. Marji Voetberg, one of our teacher consultants, offers these tips for helping all members of your family be prepared and equipped for your Independence Day celebrations.

  1. Prepare children for what to expect.

    This could include showing pictures from a previous year (if you have them) and/or YouTube videos about what to expect during the day. Describe what your son or daughter might see, hear, taste, etc throughout the day. If necessary, discuss that the noises from fireworks are not dangerous sounds. You could include all of these items in a personalized SocialStory (see an example here) that highlights the day’s activities.

  2. Have a plan.

    Explain to your children how you expect to stay together at the event. For example, will everyone wear the same colored shirt? Or stay within a certain distance? Be sure to share what to do if you get split up.

  3. Bring the right tools.

    Especially for fireworks, it may be helpful to bring blankets (wrap your child in for deep pressure), ear plugs, sunglasses, etc. These tools can provide sensory input breaks/decreased input.

  4. Use a camera.

    If you’re headed to fireworks or an event where there is a lot going on, bring a camera that your son or daughter could use. Looking through the camera at the event brings the focus in to one object/event and may help your child feel less overwhelmed by all of the things that are going on.

  5. Talk about food.

    Be sure to discuss candy consumption guidelines in advance. This is particularly important if your son or daughter has any food allergies.

  6. Think ahead.

    In general, think about what triggers there may be for your child in any of the celebratory events. Prepare your child and yourself for how to handle those triggers.

Alternately, some families prefer to avoid Fourth of July celebrations because of the excitement. For these families, it may be a good idea to shut your windows and turn on any fans as loud as possible in the evening. Find a fun family activity or movie to enjoy that allows your family to spend quality time together indoors.

Regardless of what your family does, the main goal is to plan ahead for the holiday and prepare your family for what to expect.

Do you have additional ideas? Share them in the comment box below!

MarjiVoetbergMarji Voetberg is a teacher consultant for CLC Network.

 

 

 

 

5 Tips for Summer Church Inclusion

First Baptist NashvilleIn the summertime, many churches put their Church School programs and other school-year activities on hold, which creates a new routine for everyone involved.  While some of us like change, a new routine can be difficult for some individuals, particularly individuals with disabilities. Here are some tips for your church to make sure everyone has a smooth transition into the new routine during the summer months.

  1. Communication with Key People

    As you are trying to develop a plan for the summer months, make sure you communicate with the individual, his or her family members, and any care providers. Creating a survey is one way these needs can be communicated to one another (download a free sample survey here). Or, something more informal, such as sitting down and grabbing coffee, works well too. Just be sure to ask rather than assume, what exactly is needed during the summer months.

  2. Summer Church Inclusion Action Plan

    Once you have spoken with the correct people, come up with a plan together about the best way to include the person who has a disability during these summer months. The plan should include ways an individual can use his or her gifts to be involved in areas such as worship, fellowship, and service. This plan should include steps and recommendations for the individual as well as the congregation.

    For example, an individual might worship with praise ribbons during Church School. During the summer months (or even during the rest of the year!), you may want to make praise ribbons accessible during your congregation’s worship time. Make sure that everyone is aware of this change, and that all are welcome to participate. If you are looking for an action plan guide, CLC Network has a “Church Inclusion Action Plan” in the G.L.U.E. Training Manual (available for purchase here).

  3. Schedule/Calendar

    Create a schedule or calendar for the person who has a disability so that he or she is able to anticipate the new summer routine. For example, create a schedule of the order of worship for your service. Or, a calendar of special events your church has over the summer. Be sure to communicate this schedule in a way that is best for the individual, such as using pictures in addition to words.

  4. Preview the Setting

    Allow the person with a disability to come to church before the service and allow him or her to walk through the new routine. For example, rather than heading to Sunday School right before the sermon starts, have him or her practice walking back to a seat in the sanctuary.

  5. Respite Care

    While respite care is hopefully happening throughout the year, this care can be especially important in the summertime as school is out and there is ample amount of free time during the day. Recruit volunteers to spend time with the person who has disabilities while his or her family runs errands, goes out to eat, or simply takes a nap.

As you continue to include those with disabilities into your congregation and navigate the new routine that summertime brings, we hope you find some of these tips helpful and beneficial! You can find additional inclusion tips for Vacation Bible School in this blog post.

 

Jacki Sikkema photoJacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and is a former church consultant for CLC Network. She will work at Grand Rapids Christian Middle School as a 5th grade teacher in the fall.

 

photo credit: 2008-VBS-Monday-272 via photopin (license)

 

 

 

DisArt Festival: Influencing Perceptions about Disability through Art

"Art is everyBODY"Opening this Friday, April 10, the inaugural DisArt Festival will enliven Grand Rapids (Michigan) with art exhibitions, a fashion show, a film festival, theatrical and dance performances and many more opportunities to celebrate diversity and break down prejudice.  Much like inclusive education, these activities will challenge our presuppositions and help us look more closely at our lives.  Even more radically, Disability Arts can influence cultural change and connect people to each other in new ways.  The entire festival will run April 10 through April 25.

While there are many events to explore during the two week festival, here are a few events that you and your family may enjoy:

Family Activity Days: Friday, April 11, April 18 and April 25

On the three Saturdays of DisArt (April 11, 18, & 25 from 1:00-4:00 p.m.), the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art will provide a hands-on art-making activity in which each family member will have an important role to play.  Using colorful paper, straws, and pipe cleaners, families will work together to create their own hanging sculpture.  The sculpture will be complete only when all components are together, underscoring the importance of each person’s contributions.

Fashion Show: Friday, April 17

Enjoy a fantastic night of disability fashion on Friday, April 17 from 7:00-8:00 p.m.  Models with disabilities will show off exquisite fashion designed specifically for the disabled body.  See the DisArt Fashion Runway Show at the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, 17 Pearl St. NW in Grand Rapids, MI.

DisArt Family Fest: Sunday, April 19

The Wave Room at Celebration Theater North will feature the DisArt Family Fest on Sunday, April 19 from 3:00-5:00 p.m.   There will be interactive workshops, art activities, and performances followed by a free movie.

American with Disabilities Act Legacy Bus Tour: April 24-25

On April 24 (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.)  and April 25(12-5 p.m.) you may visit the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Legacy Bus Tour at the DisArt Hub (50 Louis St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI).  Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the ADA, the bus has been touring the country with a one-of-a-kind exhibit that provides history, education and interactive experiences surrounding disability and civil  rights.

DisArt Performance: Saturday, April 25

DisArt’s Final Performance will be on Saturday, April 25 from 7:00-8:30 p.m. at the Wealthy Street Theatre (Grand Rapids, MI).  You will enjoy music, art, theatre, dance, song, and stories – not just our stories, but our DisStories.

You can learn more about the DisArt Festival and the Year of Arts + Access on the DisArt Festival website or the DisArt Facebook page.

Tom Hoeksema Sr.Tom Hoeksema, CLC Network Board member and retired Calvin College professor, serves as Chair of the DisArt Experiential Education Committee.

Making Lent and Easter Meaningful for Persons with Disabilities

Graphic: Making Lent and Easter Meaningful for Persons with DisabilitiesPart One: Get to Know the Individual

Easter and the Lenten season are a time to reflect on the sacrificial and redeeming love of Christ. For some individuals, however, this season may be confusing, unimportant, and even scary. How can you help make this a meaningful time of reflection and celebration for a person with a disability?

Accessible Gospel, Inclusive WorshipThe most important place to begin is by getting to know the individual’s strengths and areas of struggle. Each person — regardless of their level of ability or disability — is handcrafted by God with gifts and areas of interest, as well as areas where they need the assistance and grace of others. As you consider this individual, it’s important to ask: what CAN this individual do? When you focus on what the person enjoys, it’s easier to think of the tools, approach and opportunities to include in that environment where you can help the person grow closer to Jesus.

The following information is adapted from “Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship”, a book I recently wrote to help parents, friends, teachers, volunteers, and pastors create an environment where they can introduce the gospel and foster faith formation in persons with disabilities. I invite you to read this book to find practical ideas, stories, and encouragement that will help you make this important introduction.

 

Important questions to consider about your friend:

How does the individual take information in?

It’s important to know how people best process information so that we can align our strategies with that person’s best way of taking information in. Some people do function well with words. Others prefer pictures or objects. Others may need sign language, Braille or large print.

How does the individual get information out?

Do they use photos? Do they need special equipment? Find out how this person communicates and what ways you can enter that conversation together.

What movements can the person do?

Can he walk or run? Can she operate her own wheelchair? Can he sit in a chair on his own? Can she wave a praise streamer? While your friend may have many movements that work well, for those individuals who have limited mobility, find out what tools, equipment, and safety issues impact the individual’s ability to interact with the environment.

Does he or she have any sensory sensitivities?

Does he or she have an over or under sensitivity to sound or sight? How about balance or smell? Some individuals can have several differences. She might be over-sensitive in one area and under-sensitive in another.  Also think about what tools are helpful for regulating that particular sensation. Is a sound blocker, tinted glasses, or a mini trampoline helpful?  “Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship” has a helpful chart that outlines what sensitivities in these areas and more might look like, as well as an explanation of sensory sensitivities that I invite you to check out.

We encourage you to write down your answers to these questions, and even to discuss and brainstorm with other adults in this persons’ life. As you get to know this individual, think about how you could use this information to foster an environment where they can grow closer to Christ.

 

Part Two: Accessible Gospel

Now that we have a good understanding of our friend, it’s time to apply that knowledge to creating an environment where we can share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Young children in a classroomWhile the content is important, how we present that content may require some creativity and prayerful consideration. We may first need to learn to speak that individual’s language, to find out that person’s story and what that individual really enjoys. Perhaps we need to find that person’s “expert” or “guide” so we can better form a safe and productive relation­ship. Have we considered creating a team that may include intercessors, or perhaps purchasing some items that would be well received by that person? Do we know what phrases to avoid with this individual? Particularly around Easter, it’s important to make sure the invitation focuses on the compelling love of Jesus Christ, rather than items that may appear scary to your friend (like nails, death, and blood). Though Jesus’ death is crucial to our salvation, it’s important not to scare your friend into following Jesus.

You Try It

Begin with your answers to the questions in Part I above. Focus on the gifts, strengths, and interests of that person. As you think about their strengths and interests, can you think of a way to use this to make an introduction of the good news of Jesus Christ?

During Lent, would it be meaningful for your friend to have a daily reminder of Jesus’ love? Perhaps this could be a chair in their house draped in a purple cloth? Or an illustration of Jesus welcoming the children? How about a picture they’ve colored? Consider how your friend receives information, and combine that with something that meaningfully communicates Christ’s love to them.

Jesus birthday cake

One variation of the cake from the Happy Home Fairy: http://ow.ly/rw51a

Their gifts and joys will often be the activity to house the message. If your adult friend enjoys baking, then you might make Easter rolls. When you break them open, they are hollow inside. You could find a recipe for a resurrection cake where each layer and part represents what Jesus has done for us. Turn the baking environment into an introduction to Jesus.

Perhaps you are a parent. If your child is talented at playing and running, you might create a fitness course where each station tells a part of the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Perhaps you are a grandparent and your grandchild enjoys playing board games with you. If that’s a strength of your grandchild, how could you adapt his or her favorite board game to represent the parts of the gospel message?

Next, focus on the ways your friend takes information in. Do you have notes from Part I about the importance of using pictures or keeping it short due to attention span? Can you use books with words or would you want to use music? How a person takes information in will help you choose the content for the activity. For example, if you are doing the Easter cake baking, should you have a word recipe or picture recipe to describe the gospel layers of the cake?

As you look at ways your friend gets information out, this will be the way you can check for understanding. For example, if your friend can pull you to a particular place and you are doing the fitness course, you could ask your friend to take you to the place that shows us Jesus is alive. If your friend can point to a picture or object and you are doing a board game, have that person point to someone that Jesus loves in order to move forward 4 spaces.

As you plan your environment and activity, make sure to factor in movements, sensory sensitivities, safety issues, and equipment needed.

As the activity begins to form in your mind, consider constructing the content so that you can repeat it and review it.  Creating something lasting allows you to come back to it and learn from it many times over.

Person prayingAt this point, if nothing comes to mind, ask another individual to brainstorm with you. Remember to cover this process with prayer. God hand-crafted this individual and knows this person from before birth. Ask Him to highlight a path. Remember, you create the environment for the introduction to Jesus and His love for this individual, and watch God do the rest!

Remember, we are not the one who saves, that’s God’s part. But we are called to set up an environment where we can arrange an introduction. It is our hope at CLC Network that these tips and ideas have helped you to think of some ways to help a friend with a disability in your life reflect on and celebrate Christ’s love this Easter and Lenten season.

Additional resources:Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship

All of the material above was adapted from  “Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship”.  You will find many more stories and ideas in the book available from CLC Network for only $10!

The Easter BookIf you are still looking for some printed resources and more ideas, I had the chance to write a book called The Easter Book for Friendship Ministries. While this book is part of a larger set of materials, it contains many activities you may be able to use, especially with adults. You can find The Easter Book at www.clcnetwork.org or at http://www.friendship.org.

cross photo credit: Christian Cross 11 via photopin (license). Adaptions by CLC Network.

Barbara J. Newman photoBarbara J. Newman is a church and school consultant at CLC Network and a special education teacher at Zeeland Christian School. She is the author of numerous books and a frequent national speaker at educational conferences and churches.