Are people with disabilities at home in the church?

10 practical tips for becoming a disability friendly church.

“Church is a hard place for a person with a disability. Buildings are often inaccessible and people either pity me thinking that I am suffering all the time or they see me as a hero, an extra-ordinary person and different to others. I offered to be a Sunday school teacher, but people felt that the children will find my wheelchair disturbing.”Shaun lives in rural South Africa.

The church needs to unblock the path for people with disabilities who share the same spiritual journey.

The attitudes of people in the church make a person with disability feel inferior. 

“People at church focus on my limitations. They talk to me in passing, and seldom move beyond asking things about my disability. I don’t feel accepted and never get a chance to make my gifts available in church.” Temba has speech impairment.

Some teachings have an oppressive effect on people with disabilities.  

“I often get comments about the reasons for my disability. Some of them say sin is the cause. Or they say God has given me this disability because He wants me to carry it with great courage.” Maggie, Polokwane.

Many people with disabilities have given up going to church because the buildings and facilities are inaccessible. However, some thoughtfulness goes a long way to help people with disabilities to feel at home in the church. 

“A ramp at the church entrance makes me feel thought about. It is like a welcome mat; I feel this church knows about the needs of people who have difficulty in walking, so they made it easy for us to get into church”. – Ria in Kimberley.

The role of the church 

It is estimated that only 10% of the world’s nearly one billion disabled people have been reached with the Gospel. The disabled community is therefore one of the largest unreached groups.

With some adaptations in worship services and inclusive ways of thinking and doing, people with physical and intellectual disabilities can participate fully in the community of believers and exercise their gifts. People with hidden disabilities, like those with hearing loss, can be included with a loop system in the church which allows them to hear the sermon with their hearing devices.  Furthermore, for Deaf people who use Sign Language there are opportunities to become involved in Deaf-friendly church communities (

The church has the opportunity to lead the way in spiritual and social transformation by serving and becoming a loving and healing community where disabled and non-disabled people are enriched by each other’s gifts.

The RampUp project  

The RampUp project celebrates the role of people with disabilities in the church.


Ramp Up:

Dispels myths about disability

Provides a Biblical view of disability

Promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in work, witness and leadership

Provides tools to improve the accessibility of churches and much more

Five percent of the 4-5 million South Africans living with disabilities have been reached by the church. Churches need to “RampUp” their systems and facilities to reach the remaining 95%.

God’s astonishing generosity is vividly portrayed in the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14. “Yet there is room!” exclaims the amazed servant after bringing numerous people to the banquet. These people assumed they were unwelcome at the feast due to their rejection (because of their disabilities) by the rest of the village. Imagine their joy at finding themselves seated at the banqueting table. And because there is room, the invitation to the feast is still open.

RampUp helps the Church and people with disabilities to grow in relationship, so that everyone can ‘be at home in church’, a place of preparation for the Great Banquet. has a wealth of infor-mation for churches to implement in their own programs. We also offer workshops to stimulate dialogue between disabled and non-disabled people in the church. The following 10 tips are a good place to start helping people with disabilities to feel at home in the church.

1. Provide a warm, friendly and welcoming environment:

Greet people with disabilities as you would anybody else. Communicate that people affected by disability are loved, belong and are included in your church.

2. Provide basic disability awareness training for youth, church staff and volunteers:

Review basic disability etiquette tips. Invite a disability expert to your church. Obtain disability ministry resources. Ask people with disabilities what they need.

3. Improve accessibility. Make modifications where necessary:

ASK people with disabilities, e.g. people with hearing, visual or mobility impairments what difficulties they have in the church building and make the necessary changes. If necessary, modify access to the main entrance, the sanctuary, restrooms and classrooms. Accessible parking close to the entrance is very helpful.

4. Provide opportunities for service to people with disabilities:

Include people with disabilities in the leadership of the church. Utilize people with disabilities to serve as ushers and greeters, or to serve communion. Invite people with disabilities to read the scriptures, or to share their testimony. Include people with disabilities on the worship and prayer teams.

5. Provide disability friendly materials:

Have large print Bibles available. Print song sheets for people with visual impairment. Consider providing assistive listening devices for hearing impaired people.

6. Provide space for wheelchair users throughout the sanctuary:

Shorten a few pews or take chairs away from some of the rows so wheelchair users can sit with their families and friends.

7. Provide a sign interpreter for people who are deaf or hard of hearing:

Place a sign interpreter in a well-lit area, which can be seen throughout the sanctuary.

8. General communication and interaction tips:

Treat people with disabilities with the same respect as you would anyone else. Speak directly to the person with the disability, not through their family or caregivers. Be relaxed around people with disabilities, not awkward. Don’t get caught up with fancy euphemisms, such as ‘physically challenged’ or ‘differently-abled’. Put the person first, not their disability.

9. Provide assistance in the accessible parking area:

Have an attendant available to help people with disabilities from their vehicles. Offer to push their wheelchair if needed. Have a wheelchair available to assist those with difficulty in mobility.

10. Provide a ‘buddy’ or mentor for those who might need assistance:

Utilise assistants to help people with disabilities participate in worship services. Have a ‘buddy’ system for children with disabilities in Sunday school classrooms.

In South Africa resources on the inclusion of people with disabilities in churches are available from RampUp and disABILITY Connexion.

RampUp is a website with information for churches to become disability-friendly. disABILITY Connexion is an organisation in Pietermaritzburg connecting people with disabilities to themselves, to others and to the church.

Barbara Watt

Pietermaritzburg 033 347 3664 / 083 441 1834

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