Out of 35 miracles performed during the Savior’s three-and-a-half-year ministry, 23 miracles directly touched people with disabilities. His mission was clear: “The Lord . . . hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18, KJV). Jesus’ philosophy was revolutionary—both then and now.
Ellen White wrote this powerful, sobering message, “I saw that it is in the providence of God that widows and orphans, the blind, the deaf, the lame, and persons afflicted in a variety of ways, have been placed in close Christian relationship to His church; it is to prove His people and develop their true character. Angels of God are watching to see how we treat these persons who need our sympathy, love, and disinterested benevolence. This is God’s test of our character.”1
In 1995 the Seventh-day Adventist world church in general session at Utrecht, The Netherlands, recommended and voted the need for congregations to have a person selected for ministry to people with disabilities.
Because the Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes its obligation to all—“every nation, kindred, tongue and people”—we will make inroads into this untapped human resource of millions of disabled individuals worldwide. Our motto, Including All—Omitting None, gives hope to any underrepresented people-group.
Four goals of disabilities ministries
Accessibility. Disabilities Ministries assists the church in making all structures, buildings, and programs easily available to all people. By eliminating existing architectural and structural barriers and by learning to design accessible programs and buildings, the church will become a place where everyone feels welcome. There should be no barriers to the cross of Christ!
Accommodation. Disabilities Ministries assists the church by including all people as members of the family of God. This may mean providing Braille or recorded information for people who are blind or creating meaningful Sabbath School experiences for people who have various learning challenges. The goal includes helping God’s family to be inclusive in principle and practice.
Encouragement and education. Disabilities Ministries assists church members in developing a supportive environment in all aspects of church life for all people. This also includes working with educational institutions.
Employment. Disabilities Ministries assists the church in making full use of the talents and skills of all individuals throughout the work of the church.
What would prevent a church or conference from embracing Disabilities Ministries? One pastor stated candidly, “I have a disability myself.” His usual jovial voice became very deep with concern as he continued, “Honestly, I don’t know what to do. If we open our doors to the disabled, are we ready?”
I was relieved because he did not say, “We can’t afford another ministry.” Disabilities Ministries anticipates a perceived need and responds. As a new father, he fully understood these words, “A nursery is usually completed before the baby comes home from the hospital. Disabilities Ministries should be started before you have disabled members in your church.”
Seven major disability groups
There are seven major disabilities groups a church can address.
Cognitive disability. Cognitive disability is an impairment of a person’s ability to comprehend what they see and hear and then to infer information from social subtleties and body language. A cognitive disability may include, but is not limited to, autism, mental challenges, learning disabilities, Down syndrome, and traumatic brain injuries.
Hearing disability. Hearing disability includes impairment of a person’s ability to hear sound and may include the inability to discriminate speech. Hearing disabilities may range from profound to severe to mild hearing losses.
Hidden disability. Some physical conditions are not easily recognized. Hidden disability may include, but is not limited to, lupus, arthritis, high blood pressure, epilepsy, heart disease, or diabetes.
Mental or psychiatric disability. Some disorders may affect daily living. These disabilities may include, but are not limited to, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, multiple personalities, and phobias.
Mobility disability. Mobility impairment limits the individual’s ability to perform the activities of daily living. This kind of disability may include, but is not limited to, partial or complete paralysis, missing extremities, orthopedic impairments, and the use of wheelchairs or walkers.
Speech disability. Speech disability affects a person’s ability to communicate and can be characterized as language and voice disorders, articulation errors, and stuttering.
Visual disability. Visual disability affects a person’s ability to see.
Ellen Whites states that Jesus “showed His sympathy, . . . ministered to their needs, and won their confidence.”2 By addressing these four goals within these seven major disability groups, church members can do the same by becoming sensitized to attitudinal barriers.
Terms to be avoided
Although some of the terms used are biblically based, in today’s vernacular many are quite negative and offensive (see figure 1).
The negative terms mentioned in figure 1 should be replaced by more appropriate terminology as described in figure 2.
Each church may begin a Disabilities Ministries program by developing Disabilities Awareness Sabbaths and interactive learning sessions, evaluating structures and programs, seeking ways to improve accessibility, assisting with educational and informative resources, and producing tailor-made programs for the specific church and community needs.
Some of the following activities can be completed by skilled workers within the church or by contacting local agencies: install ramps, cut openings in curbs, lower telephones, add alarms with flashing lights, replace door knobs with handles, widen doorways and aisles, place grab bars in restroom stalls, remove high-pile carpeting, insulate lavatory pipes under sinks to prevent burns, and provide Braille signs and menus.
If your church requires additional information about ministry to individuals with disabilities, contact your conference office.
“If we have the true religion of the Bible we shall feel that debt of love, kindness, and interest is due to Christ in behalf of His brethren; and we can do no less than to show our gratitude for His immeasurable love to us while we were sinners unworthy of His grace, by having a deep interest and unselfish love for those who are our brethren and who are less fortunate than ourselves.”3
If Disabilities Ministries seems a bit overwhelming, remember, the will of God will never take you where the grace of God cannot keep you.
Disabilities Ministries is a ministry whose time has come.
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, vol. 3 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press® Publishing Association, 1948), 511.
2 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press® Publishing Association, 1905), 143.
3 White, Testimonies, vol. 3, 511.