This month, the synod will launch its Disability Action Plan 2015 – 2018. Rev Andy Calder, disability inclusion officer, said the plan has been developed over the course of several years as an intentional strategy to ensure people living with a disability are welcomed fully into the Church community.
As Mr Calder explained, the Plan represents one of the central calls to the Christian community – hospitality. He cites Hebrews (13:2) – ‘in welcoming and entertaining strangers, we welcome angels without knowing it’ – as the theological basis for the plan.
“We are invited to consider the ways in which those known to us, or not so well known to us, can access a faith community,” Mr Calder said. “How do we find each other? What attitudes and values will be encountered? Are there physical, attitudinal, emotional and historical roadblocks which affect the ability to be communities of hospitality?”
While physical access is a vital element of any action plan, Mr Calder hopes that congregations and agencies will also use the plan to reflect on attitudes that may hinder full participation.
The values the Plan hopes to promote were reflected in its development process. Consultations were held throughout the church community in a variety of formats to encourage as many voices as possible.
The step-by-step Plan is designed to enable churches and agencies to build on existing strategies and identify areas where they might improve. He said the initial process of assessing what needs to be done can be informative for those involved.
Some changes may be relatively simple, whilst others may require establishing a working group, auditing properties, engaging external experts and contractors and assessing the value of programs. Mr Calder hopes the Uniting Church will also use it as a guide to building inclusive communities.
“To optimise credibility, the analysis should involve people with disabilities, carers, family and friends, outlining how they experience obstacles and difficulties,” Mr Calder said. “Awareness raising and educational opportunities are important throughout the planning process. This ensures greater participation and ownership.
“To have a sense of belonging, we all need to be missed. For people marginalised by disability, faith communities motivated by justice and welcome can provide that sense of belonging.”
The Disability Action Plan will be submitted to the Australian Human Rights Commission as an indication of the commitment of the Church to inclusion.