Persons with disabilities face barriers—including communication barriers, physical barriers, and negative attitudes from others—that may expose them to increased risks in churches and schools. Some individuals have lived their entire life with a disability, while others develop one as they age. Awareness and inclusive preparedness become powerful tools for churches to better identify, communicate with, and safeguard persons with disabilities. Using the information below, churches may better understand the risks while following the gospel call to protect the least of these.
Types of Disabilities
There are many ways to categorise disabilities. All of these disabilities present barriers that impact communication and/or physical mobility. Categories include:
A hearing disability is impairment of a person’s ability to hear sounds, and, in some instances, the inability
to hear and understand spoken language.
Hearing disabilities may range from mild to profound loss.
There is also a difference between those who grow up culturally deaf and those who lose their hearing
later in life.
Visual impairment is a range of conditions, including total blindness from birth, the gradual loss of vision,
muscular disorders, strabismus (“crossed eyes”), or tunnel vision
A speech disability is a disability that affects a person’s ability to communicate. The individual may
experience language and voice disorders, articulation errors, dysfluency, or stuttering.
Mobility impairments impact an individual’s movement or coordination. These include spina bifida, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, paraplegia, quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, amputation, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
A cognitive disability is an impairment of a person’s ability to comprehend what is seen or heard and to infer information from social subtleties and body language.
Cognitive disabilities include Down syndrome, dyslexia, autism, and traumatic brain injuries.
A mental disability is a disorder that may affect daily living. This may include but is not limited to
schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and phobias.
A hidden disability is a physical condition that is not easily recognized. The Americans with Disabilities
Act broadened the list to include hidden disabilities including arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, certain cancers, epilepsy, lupus, asthma, and obesity.
How Disabilities Impact Risk Management
As we identify and address risks facing our ministries, it is important to consider how well our risk management strategies work for people with disabilities. Some areas of risk management will need special attention to be able to adequately serve all members and visitors. We must consider how to incorporate inclusive risk management strategies in our plans for emergency response, preventing sexual abuse, and reducing slips, trips, and falls.
During an emergency, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately impacted in the immediate and long-term. This can be compounded if our safety committee has not considered how members and visitors with disabilities will fit into the emergency plan.
More than 90 percent of people with developmental disabilities will experience sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Forty-nine percent will experience 10 or more abusive incidents. The church should put necessary measures in place to ensure adequate supervision and communication modes if reports need to be made.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
The prevalence of falls involving people with intellectual disabilities is high in comparison with the general population. Regular maintenance that focuses on the experiences of persons with disabilities is very important. Awareness of how obstructions, without adequate warning or supervision, can help diminish risk is helpful. Making sure maintenance procedures are reviewed by those impacted can also ensure necessary protocols are in place.
Depending on the nature of the disability and our ministry, all of these risks may involve very different protocols. We should start with raising awareness, then gather the necessary information and take action to protect all God’s people.