Tag Archives: developmental disability

Autism Moms and Dads Blog Series Interview#1-2017

A big FIN welcome to Mr. Michael J. Hoggatt, a professor at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA in the Disabled Students Programs and Services Program. In our first interview of the second annual Autism Moms and Dads Blog Series to celebrate Autism Awareness this April, Michael shares about his beautiful daughter, Summer.  Thank you for your contribution Mr. Hoggatt and especially for giving us a dad’s point of view.

Interview #1 with Mr. Michael Hoggatt

  • Question: How old was your child when they were diagnosed with autism? Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?
  • Michael: Summer carried a number of diagnoses up until age 6 or 7, including MR. At age 6 or 7 Special Education and local Developmental Services (Regional Center in California) re-diagnosed her as both IDD and ASD.  My wife and I thought the diagnoses was appropriate.

Summer and her Mom

We met Summer at age 3 ½ after she had lived her entire life in the foster care system. We knew she had significant delays and a history of abuse, so 3 -3 ½ years after meeting her, we were aware of her needs regardless of the label. However, we also knew that some labels were easier to wrap services around, so there never any grief or significant concern over receiving a diagnosis of ASD.

  • Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism dad?
  • MichaelBeing marginalized as a dad. Too often moms are contacted by the school or the people Summer is currently working with.  I go to every IEP and every meeting about her and my wife and I are a team. This seems to be a foreign concept to many of the ABA and Special Education administrators. It is difficult to explain that in both the secular and sacred realms, that I probably spend more 1:1 time with my daughter than anyone else (including her time with my wife).

Balancing the need to create a typical environment while responding to both her developmental as well as attachment needs is another challenge.

  • Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism dad?

  • Michael: Every day there is a difficulty with Summer whether it is related to her hygiene, her personal space, or her aggression. Yet, it is so far outweighed by her genuine kindness and love. Watching her make progress in a skill or watching her discover something new in the world. Right now our thing is sitting next to each other holding hands while we watch the Cooking Channel.  
  • Question: Has autism affected your faith? If yes, how so?
  • Michael: I am closer to God but further away from my peers.  I have seen how God has worked in our lives. I have seen God work in Summer’s life. Despite living 3 ½ years in 9 different placements full of abuses and neglect, and despite losing a kidney to advanced, near terminal, kidney cancer at age 5, she is still hopeful. She is still able to show me God’s grace on a daily basis.  However, while we are able to attend our corporate worship service, we have never been able to participate in a small group do to the need for one of us monitor her since there is no “buddy,” or 1:1, outside of Sunday mornings.  
  • Question: Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism dad?
  • Michael: Looking back on the challenges associated with fostering/adopting a girl with her diagnoses and challenges (including the loss of relationships, the emotional strain, the health scares, and more) I know that I am closer to God, I am closer to my wife, I am a better father to her and her brother (Elijah age 6), and a better version of me because she is in my life. As such, knowing what I know now, not only would we do it all again, we probably would have tried to do it sooner.          



If you are interested in reading more from Mr. Hoggatt, he contributed to the book, Another Kind of Courage: God’s Design for Fathers of Families Affected by Disability by Dough Mazza and Steve Bundy, published by Joni and Friends: Agoura Hills, CA 2013.







A Call to Encouragement

Last Thursday evening over sixty people from our community gathered at Second Presbyterian Church, Norfolk to support FIN and learn more about the current work and vision of our growing organization. Beginning our 10th year, this is an important and exciting time in the development of our small non-profit, working towards our dream of making the congregations of Hampton Roads the most inclusive and welcoming in the country-envisioning a world where all people affected by disability are accepted, included and celebrated in our faith communities.  Many, many thanks to members of Second Pres., volunteers and supporters who made the reception a wonderful first time event.

In the wake of this successful gathering however, I began to feel extremely overwhelmed.  There is so much work to be done; challenges of time, finances and the daunting task of helping our community in general understand what FIN is about seem almost insurmountable.  I needed to take a moment or two to understand what God was doing with all of this…and so I turned to my Bible.

Members of FIN Clergy Council: Catherine Monroe, Jack Howell, Michael Panitz, Craig Wansink, Wendy Wilkinson and Michael Daniels

Members of FIN Clergy Council: Assoc. Pastor Catherine Monroe, Pastor Jack Howell, Rabbi Michael Panitz, Pastors Craig Wansink, Wendy Wilkinson and Michael Daniels

I found myself in the book of Nehemiah.  It had been a long time since I had read about Nehemiah’s quest to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, and I was reminded that it didn’t exactly go so smoothly for him.  Workers got tired and discouraged, and were even threatened by those that opposed building the wall.  Although the challenges of building FIN are obviously very different, Nehemiah’s words jumped out of the page for me: “Don’t be afraid of them, Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome…” Oh yes, my heart agreed, God is both great and He is awesome. Just the other evening, FIN board member Pamela Tanner was talking with a guest at the reception and shared, “What I love about FIN is that it is a God thing…we certainly couldn’t have come this far without God.” I couldn’t agree more.

I also related to Nehemiah’s words in Chapter 4:19-20: “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”  I immediately related to that idea, and thought that maybe FIN is called to be that trumpet. We go out into our faith communities, many working hard to diligently embrace the work of inclusion of people with disabilities in our congregations, yet we can feel alone in our efforts sometimes.  FIN’s events, whether they be receptions, workshops or conferences, herald the opportunity to come together to learn from, support and encourage one another.  We are stronger together and our God will fight for us and with us!

As FIN moves forward, I ask that you consider three ways to support our efforts and work in the community.  All of them are equally important.

  1. Share. Use our Facebook pages, share emails, tell your acquaintances, friends and co-workers that there is an important effort building in our community; an effort to ensure ALL people are welcomed and accommodated in our faith communities, an effort to ensure that all people have the opportunity to worship and be an active part of our congregations.    https://www.facebook.com/FINhamptonroads/ and https://www.facebook.com/ThatAllMayWorship/
  2. Become a member. Visit the membership page and choose one of our four membership circles. http://www.faithinclusionnetwork.org/memberships/
  3. Pray. As an organization based on faith, we do not underestimate the power of your prayers. Please pray for our efforts to raise awareness, educate and connect our community.

Thank you and hope to see you at our signature event this year, That All May Worship-2017 Pathways to Powerful Inclusion Conference on Friday, March 10 at Church of the Holy Family, VB- https://thatallmayworship-2017.eventbrite.com



We are ready, how about you?

“What more can I do?
This is the question I dared to pray way back in January 2008. I wanted to know how to respond to the overwhelming compassion I felt for other families going through the same experience we were-families struggling to include their child with a disability into the life of their faith community. Congregations needed to be educated, individuals and families needed to know there was help…and hope.0314162006a
Nine years later and countless conversations, conferences, events and educational opportunities later, my passion for working in the faith and disability field is well developed and I have a new question on my prayer list;

“What more can WE do?

Because this is about community… our community. As members of this community, we need to decide what we believe to be acceptable and in the best interest of all persons, regardless of their perceived abilities or disabilities.

Should people with disabilities be able to access churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship in our community? – Yes!

Should individuals affected by disability and their families be able to enjoy and participate in corporate worship?Of course!

Should persons affected by disability get the chance to use their gifts to serve and get the opportunity to develop friendships with others in the congregation? – Absolutely!

If the amount of phone calls and email inquiries FIN has received recently are any indication, our local faith communities are beginning efforts towards better inclusion at a faster rate than ever. Small and large congregations are beginning to ask the questions and seek resources to better understand how to welcome and accommodate everyone.

But there is still much work to do done. Alarmingly, I also get the phone calls from distressed individuals and  parents with discouraging stories to share. Faith communities that did not understand, that excluded, that are not even accessible never mind welcoming.
So the question remains for FIN and for all of our faith communities…
“What more can we do?”


Today I put the finishing touches on the very first dedicated office space for Faith Inclusion Network. Second Presbyterian Church, already home to our unique Faith and Disability Resource Center, has expanded their generosity and partnership by giving FIN our first public office. It feels like a turning point. FIN is ready to up our game. We want to make an even bigger impact on our community, both locally and nationally. We want to both help local congregations figure out the answer to the question, “What more can we do?” and make Hampton Roads an example for the rest of the country.
We are ready…how about you?

You can contact FIN at http://faithinclusionnetwork@gmail.com to be added to our email list, “Like” our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FINhamptonroads and check out our website at http://www.faithinclusionnetwork.org Hope to hear from you soon!


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Katie’s daughter June Ivy

I have a friend who is, like myself, the mom of a child who has autism. Katie is funny, loving, a bit younger than me and I realized today, much braver than I.
Katie Moorman and I have known each other for many years. We met through the group Living in Holland, a Christian support group for moms raising children with special needs. Although 10 years plus difference in age, with children at very different stages, we have developed a close relationship through a shared interest in writing, strong faith and an of course, being moms to children on the spectrum.
My involvement with both FIN and Living in Holland has given me the opportunity to walk alongside many other parents raising children with disabilities. There may be nothing I have done in ministry more important than listening and praying with these moms and dads, people who share a similar parenting journey. Just like anything else in life, it is difficult to truly understand another’s experience until you have “walked in their shoes”. The shoes, I have found, are at times painful, uncomfortable, more than anyone can or should have to bare.
But I and thousands of other parents of children with severe disabilities choose to don those shoes every day and courageously rise to the challenges of care-giving.
At times, the shoes are pretty comfortable; there are many moments of joy in my life as a mom. When I witness all my children interacting in a loving way, watch my daughter learn a new skill, or participate in normal family outings with no major behaviors-these are great experiences and moments I treasure.
Today however, I read a post from my friend and blogger, Katie and I remembered that all too often, our shoes are different than most, and they can sometimes be almost unbearable. Katie’s daughter June is turning 7 years old. She has various disabilities, including autism. For years Katie has been challenged by June’s behavior of smearing feces all over the house and all over herself.
I have not lived through this particular kind of behavior, but it is not difficult to imagine how challenging this would be. Through our LIH group meetings and private conversations with Katie, I have gotten a glimpse of how hard dealing with this kind of behavior has been on her and the whole family. But especially on Katie as the primary caregiver.
When I saw Katie’s story today http://ivajune.blogspot.com/2016/06/birthday-present-kryptonite-body-suit.html with a picture of her beautiful 7 year old daughter covered in feces, my heart just about stopped. I read the poignant blog post and then sat amazed that she could post the picture and the story. But it is the truth. It is reality and parents deal with things like smeared feces every day.
So what does any of this have to do with you, your faith community, your ministry, your life? Why should it matter that this mom decided to show you the truth about a challenging behavior- one that only us special needs moms may have even heard of but most, including myself, would not be brave enough to share publicly?
It matters because we are people of God, we are called to love and support each other. The need for understanding, support and encouragement in the disability community is great. Some of our Hampton Roads faith communities have started respite programs, others support groups. Still others have begun to reach out to families of children with disabilities to help with child care so that the parents can go to worship together.
What can you do? What can your faith community do to support families that walk a challenging parenting road or who are truly in crisis?
Contact us if you would like more information or have an idea to share. And pray. Please pray.
Karen Jackson-http://faithinclusionnetwork@gmail.com

Autism Moms Interview #7 Angela Kahler


I met Angela Kahler at our first Gifts of the Heart event in 2012.  We connected as autism moms and fellow Catholics immediately and I knew she and we would become good friends. (Which we have!)

A bundle of energy. Angela is extremely involved in the community.  She was on the FIN Board of Directors for 4 years and is still very active with FIN events.  She is also a Disability Advocate at her church, Church of the Ascension in Virginia Beach and the Treasurer of the Virginia Beach Special Educational PTSA.  

Thank you for your friendship, Angela, and all you do for your family and the disability community.

Question: How old was your child when they were diagnosed with autism? Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?

Angela: Joe was pretty young. He was 23 months old when he was diagnosed. I grieved the loss of the life I wished and planned for for my son. I was devastated. Since then, I have realized what I wanted for my son was a happy life- Joe has always been happy. We are blessed. Different things make him happy (and plenty of the same things- love and affection.). I worried, will he marry- the truth is I think he will find happiness in non-typical ways. 


Question: How has living with autism affected your family?

Angela: We are much more aware of autism of course, but also all other differences, i.e development, abilities, etc. Even my extended family is focused on not just supporting Joe but kids and adults with differences.

Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom?

Angela: Joe has been in speech therapy, OT and ABA (off and on) since he was 2. He is now 11. We have been on a fast paced schedule with little rest for that many years. I worry about not doing enough to help him reach his potential but I also worry about us having enough time to just enjoy life.

Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?

Angela: I have embraced the truth that children with autism are children first. Joe and I have been spending a lot of time just doing typical mom/son things- watching movies, reading, laughing. As a family, we have been enjoying more of these regular joys.

Question: Has autism affected your faith? If yes, how so?

Angela: I clung to my faith when Joe was diagnosed. Very well meaning friends asked me if there was something I was doing that was preventing Joe from being “healed”. I am Catholic. As I often do when looking for answers to important and hard questions, I turned to my faith and the Bible- and the story- was it the sin of the blind man or his parents that caused him to be blind? Neither this man nor his parents sinned- this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. I also think differently about autism now then I did when Joe was first diagnosed. Joe’s autism is a difference but it does not define him. I have had to do a lot of soul searching. Admittedly, when Joe was first diagnosed- I thought autism was a tragedy, almost a death sentence for people with autism and their families- please forgive me, I didn’t know. It is a difference. It is part of my son. He is a blessing, gifted and talented as God made him. He also brings out the best in others. He is something special. His smile is contagious. My brother went to church with us and I was praying for Joe to make it through without being too loud- Joe danced to the music, laughed, smiled and enjoyed church- my brother remarked- he was a blessing to everyone around us at church. Prayers answered. Lesson learned- have faith.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism mom?

Angela: To my 39 year old self- I would say, try to relax- 9 years from now Joe will be a sweet, adorable, happy kid. You will have advised many moms how to get their kids the help they need, find therapy and doctors and you will look them right in the eye and tell them this will all work out. You will have been supported by smart, loving compassionate people- you are not alone. I also wish my 60 year old self could tell me something now- I am very hopeful for the future. I can tell Joe still has a lot to teach me.
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Autism Mom Interview #5 Pamela Tanner

april_is_autism_awareness_month_1Pamela Tanner lives in Chesapeake with her husband and beautiful daughter, Raven.  She and I connected right away when we met.  Not only do we have autism in common; raising girls on the spectrum, but we both also have a passion for and professional experience in the field of music.  It did not take long to invite Pamela to be on our FIN board of directors and for us to get involved in a wonderful music project together, the arrangement of performances of “Let’s Share a Journey”.  (But more on that another time!) 

Thank you Pamela, friend, for answering these questions with such honesty and sharing your precious Raven with us!- K. Jackson

Interview with: Pamela Tanner

Position: Sr. Operations Supervisor, Kantar Media and Founder and Director of Raven’s Way Foundation https://www.facebook.com/RavensWayfoundation/

Question: How old was your child when they were diagnosed with autism? Can you share how you felt when you received that diagnosis?
Pamela: Raven’s medical diagnosis was low-tone, speech delay, multiple developmental delays, and epilepsy. No one ever used the word autism, but we knew enough about it to know that she did indeed have autism. How did I feel? Lost, upset, overwhelmed, guilty, frustrated, and afraid. I wondered if there was something that I had done during my pregnancy that caused it. I told myself that my husband and I never should have tried to have another child at 41 and 43, what with all the risk factors. I was afraid that I did not have what it would take to raise a special needs child because I was not the supermom that all the other mothers were. And I was afraid of the future because I just did not know what to expect.
Question: How has living with autism affected your family? 
Pamela: Raven is my husband’s only child, and I have an adult son who is 25 years older than her who lives in Memphis. My husband and I have struggled with the demands and challenges of having a 10 year-old at the ages we are (over 50), and struggle even more with the requirements and demands that are complicated by autism. We struggle to have time together to have a conversation, or watch a movie. We never seem to get enough sleep, and meal time is challenging. Even when we manage some time together, Raven is always in our thoughts and we check on her. My husband seems to look to me to have answers, ideas, and solutions. I used to maintain a home that would rival Martha Stewart; now I feel I have achieved housekeeping nirvana if all the dishes get washed and there is a pile clothes that are actually clean. My mother and two sisters live in the area, so we are blessed with much help and support from them. They make it possible for us to have a child free weekend at least once a month, and take advantage of a spur of the moment date night. My mother is a retired nurse and Navy wife, and she is quick to remind me that God is in control, and to let go of my own plan because His is so much better.Me By Myself
Question: What is currently your biggest challenge as an autism mom?
Pamela: My biggest challenge is communicating effectively with my daughter, so I can help her understand the world, puberty, feelings, and all that girl stuff moms need to address. Many times I cannot determine if a behavior is a product of her having autism, or her personality, or both. Raven has a speech delay, however her verbal communication ability has improved significantly over the last two years. She is a very smart and savvy thinker, and observes everything. She creates a plan to get what she wants, and I stand in awe of her accomplishments, but struggle with “okay that was brilliant, but she cannot live life thinking it was the right thing to do”. From time to time, I mourn that I will not have the typical mother/daughter relationship thing with Raven. We will not get mannies and pedies because Raven hates having anyone touch her feet or hands unless she initiates it. She can’t really give me an opinion on a new hairdo or cool outfit. I try to focus on how blessed we are in other ways, but every now and then I get a little sad.
Question: What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?
Pamela: Listening to Raven sing songs. I am a vocalist and my husband is a violinist, so music is life’s blood in our home. Raven loves music, and she dances and sings so joyfully with a big smile on her face. I love to watch and listen to her enjoy something as wonderful and magical as music.
Question: Has autism affected your faith? If yes, how so?
Pamela: Most definitely. My daughter having autism has truly challenged me to take stock of what I say I believe, and then really live it. Every day is a faith walk, and I am believing God for everything, literally. Lamentations 3:22-23 says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness”. That is for real. Raven never questions or worries about being cared for, loved, having her needs met, and enjoying her life. I have realized that that is exactly what God wants from me. To trust Him completely and not be afraid. To know that He loves me, and that He has called and equipped me to do all that He wants me to do. To be assured that my hope, my faith, and my salvation is in Him and Him alone. I use to wonder why God chose me to be Raven’s mom. The answer? Because He knew I needed her.
Question:Is there anything else you would like to share about being an autism mom?
Pamela: The fruits of need, commitment, and love combined are amazing. Inspired by our daughter’s passion for life and for music, my husband and I started the Ravens Way Foundation almost two years ago because we wanted to create meaningful opportunities for children and adults impacted by special needs or disabilities to enjoy and participate in music events, concerts, and workshops in their own special way.

Accept. Include. Celebrate.


This story is written in honor of all my friends who have Down syndrome.

Happy World Down Syndrome Day!-K. Jackson

I walked into the gathering slowly, tired from a long Monday that included teaching, driving, and frustrating phone calls to my bank. I was spent and ready to just pick up my daughter and get home to start the evening routine. But something happened in the moment I walked in the door…something simple yet profound.
I was greeted, not just warmly, but enthusiastically by one of my friends at The Chosen Ministry, a social ministry for persons with disabilities. No, not by my daughter-she rarely gets excited like this-but by a friend who just sees me a few times a month. As I made my way into the building my friend, who has Down syndrome, by the way, blessed me with a huge smile, a hug, and made me feel welcomed. She was glad to see me and demonstrated it enthusiastically.
Just recently, Faith Inclusion Network has rolled out our new Vision Statement with the Motto: Accept. Include. Celebrate. As a Board of Directors, we spent months making a decision about the correct wording for the vision and how to express it in a few short words. What I realized last night, was that my friend from The Chosen Ministry expressed it in a few short moments. Her actions demonstrated acceptance, inclusion and celebration. She turned my night around in a few moments, making me feel not just like I belonged in the gathering, but that I was important and would have been missed had I not been there. I felt like a celebrity when I walked through the door…just because I had shown up!
What if our faith communities where like that for every person, especially those who are affected by disability? What if, when we came through the door, we were celebrated for just who we are? The labels of Autism, Down syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Cerebral Palsy or whatever would be irrelevant. That is the goal of Faith Inclusion Network and, I believe, of all of our partners around the country working toward faith inclusion. That all can belong to a faith community and be accepted, included and celebrated just because we showed up. Imagine the possibilities!


Karen and Samantha working on a craft at The Chosen Ministry Norfolk

It’s All About Attitude

Over the last few years, it has been well stated by advocates of the faith and disability community that significant barriers can and do exist in faith communities.  The barriers not only make it difficult for persons with disabilities to be included but result in unwelcoming and inaccessible places of worship. “If there are barriers of attitude, communication or architecture for anyone, the foundation of the House of God is weakened.”-That All May Worship, An Interfaith Welcome to People with Disabilities, page 5, http://www.aapd.com/what-we-do/interfaith/that-all-may-worship/that-all-may-worship.pdf .

Architectural barriers, such as limited or non-existent wheelchair accessibility are obvious.  If one cannot get into a building or does not have access to certain parts of a building, the message is clear: “You are not welcome”.  But physical barriers can be less obvious as well.  A church might have a ramp to the front door but the door is very heavy and difficult to open.  Although a greeter may be assigned during regular service times, what about small meetings during the weekday?  An inaccessible door like this could still be a barrier, communicating to the person using a wheelchair: “You are welcome to our worship service but we don’t necessarily want or even recognize your desire to participate in other activities or ministries of our community.”  An automatic door might be a solution here-giving independent access to the building.

Barriers of communication are also obvious but often overlooked.  These include providing alternative forms of communicating such as an ASL Interpreter, a Looping System, C.A.R.T. (Communication Access in Real-time Translation), large print materials or Braille materials.  If a person has a condition that affects their sight or hearing, they will need these kinds of accommodations.  Important to note; if your place of worship does not have these accommodations in place, a person needing them will not usually visit. The stance, “We don’t have anyone with these kinds of disabilities here so we don’t need to provide accommodations” therefore, is useless and most uninviting.

It is also worth considering communication accommodations for persons with developmental or intellectual disabilities.  Using visuals (for example providing a picture schedule for the order of the service) would be a way to bridge the communication gap with people who might find it difficult to follow along without visual cues.

But when it comes to barriers, attitude is by far the most difficult for congregations to address.  The attitude of people in the congregation, the governing body of the faith community and the administration can directly influence how a person or family affected by disability feels when coming to a place of worship.  The examples are endless, but let’s look at one:

A family with a young child with autism visits a church for the first time.  The family is cautious, feeling a bit awkward because, 1. They know their 8 year old has some typical autistic behaviors that make it a challenge to stay confined for a full hour service and 2. They have had bad experiences in the past trying to make worship work.

But they are here, at your church, trying again.

All seems to go well until about 15 minutes into the service when the child who has autism starts up, wiggling and laughing too loud, finally belting out a loud “ahhhhh…” in response to an unknown stimuli.

Other members of the congregation turn around and stare.  One mother, sitting with three well behaved children, rolls her eyes and whispers to her husband.

The family, now mortified, gets up and leaves…and they don’t come back.

Before you think, “This would never happen in my place of worship”, think again.  Research out of Vanderbilt University concluded that 70% of parents of children with disabilities would find disability awareness efforts, over any other accommodations, the most helpful.  As stated in Welcoming People with Developmental Disabilities and their Families: A Practical Guide for Congregations, written by Erik Carter, Courtney Taylor, Thomas Boehm, Naomi Annandale, and Aimee Logeman,

“Parents considered congregation-wide disability awareness to be among the most helpful efforts faith communities could undertake. Why is it so important to foster awareness and understanding of disability? Often, the biggest barrier people with disabilities and their families encounter are not inaccessible stairs, but unwelcoming stares.” http://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/assets/files/resources/CongregationPracticeGuide.pdf

When it comes to barriers however, I offer up the following: Attitude is the only real barrier to full inclusion. Let me explain with an example.

A FIN friend of mine who lost her hearing as an adult and was looking for a place to worship.  She wanted to attend a large local church but needed some accommodations.  So my friend contacted the church, asking if they might provide C.A.R.T. for just two services per month.  (Communication in Real-time Translation-someone types what is being said in real time and this is projected on a screen).

The response from the church was almost immediate: “We asked our pastor and administration about this request and we are sorry that we cannot provide this type of accommodation at this time.  The cost is prohibitive since it is only needed for one person.”

Although the barrier to participation in worship here is clearly one of communication, the overlying barrier is one of attitude.  Because of the quick response, it was obvious that this request did not go beyond the front office.  There was no offer to meet with my friend, bring this suggestion to the governing body of the church for discussion or even investigate possible ways to make raise funds.  Because she was just one person making the request, the church administration did not see the need to further consider the use of C.A.R.T. or consider ways to provide this needed accommodation.

This attitude barrier could apply in any situation where funding is needed for making buildings or worship services more accessible.  A few people from a large, wealthy church in our area advocated for over a year to provide funds for an elevator to the second floor.  Although the worship services all take place on the ground level, the second floor remained off limits to a teenage who uses a wheelchair and wanted to be a part of the youth group class.  Although the church (and good for them!) temporarily moved the class to the one small available classroom on the first floor, it made the teen feel bad.  He did not want the whole class moved just for him-all the other children where upstairs in the more spacious classrooms.

Happily, the advocacy work, combined with an open and accepting attitude prevailed and a much needed elevator was eventually built.  With some education and awareness, the attitude of the congregation changed and funds were allocated for the project.  Several months after the elevator was installed, another family with a child who uses a wheelchair joined the church.  Imagine that!

All in all, my experience through FIN is that attitudes are changing and faith communities are moving toward positive inclusive efforts.  In our own local Hampton Roads community, more and more places of worship are beginning disability ministry efforts and programs.  In September and October alone, I and other members of the FIN Board of Directors have given presentations for six different faith communities and organizations, sharing ideas for inclusion and the mission of FIN-“to better include people with disabilities into faith communities.”  Barriers are being knocked down and attitudes are changing. Is your faith community ready to embrace an attitude of inclusion?  Let us know how we can help.  Join FIN and the faith and disabilities movement and get involved!


To reprint this article for distribution in your faith community or to request a presentation, contact Karen Jackson at faithinclusionnetwork@gmail.com

FIN Presentation Topics


1. “It’s All About Attitude!”- Introduction to disability inclusion in faith communities

2. “Inclusion 101”-Ideas for inclusion into religious education

3.  Disability Awareness presentations for children and teens

4. Contact us to customize a presentation that would meet the needs of your faith community