Becoming a Disability Confident Church

Jason Forbes

Jason Forbes

Disability Advocate

Originally published in the June-July 2014 Edition of The Presbyterian Pulse

I recently read an article by Lynette May, CEO of Disability Employment Australia, exploring ways in which organisations can be more ‘disability confident’ and inclusive of people with disabilities. I began to wonder what these lessons would look like for the church, particularly once they are informed by Scripture. 

Let me begin by asking a pointed question: Do you understand the role of people with disabilities in the church, and their ability to contribute to the corporate witness of God’s grace? If not, sadly, you are likely to be excluding people with disabilities from participating in the church. Becoming ‘disability confident’ means removing barriers for people with disabilities, and creating a culture of inclusion. 

Changing culture is a huge task, and it can be difficult. But it doesn’t need to be  scary, and it certainly isn’t impossible. Neither is the change only to benefit an ‘unfortunate few’. Disability makes an impact on all aspects of life. It’s not just children who are born with disabilities who are impacted. It’s also people who acquire disabilities through life, or simply start ‘wearing out’ with age. Disability is part of the fabric of life, and Scripture is no stranger to it. In fact, Scripture claims that God is sovereign over disability (Exodus 3:11; John 9:3). Since disability is no stranger to God, neither should disability be strangers to us. In the Old Testament, God’s people were instructed to be respectful and make provisions for people with disabilities and other disadvantaged people groups (Leviticus 19:9-10, 14; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21). 

As New Testament believers we should be all the more prepared now that God has spoken through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2 2:1-3; 10:24-25; Titus 2:14). So we have ample reason to change our culture, and grow disability confident, inclusive churches. When we do, we find that everyone benefits. Starting is easier than what you may think! There are four simple steps that you can take with your church.

1. Stocktake 

Consider what your church has already. Is there a ramp into the main auditorium for people with restricted mobility? Is there a hearing loop for people with impaired hearing? Is there provision for children with different learning styles in the Sunday School? Is there an accessible toilet? Are chairs and tables provided at morning tea for people who would rather sit and talk than stand? Are there ways you can better support people with disabilities who are already in your congregation. 

Beginning with what you have already is a good place to start, and provides a firm foundation for improving your facilities – no matter how small it is. Even if it’s just a hand rail on steps, start your thinking here. 

Take the opportunity to discuss this with other staff, or set up a group where people can brainstorm and come up with fresh ideas. If there are people in the church who have disabilities or a connection to disability, make sure they are part of the conversation.

2. Be a loving neighbour

Consider the needs of the community immediately surrounding the church. Is the church in a position to provide loving and caring support? What resources are available to support the community? You may find when you do this, you are providing an invaluable witness to God’s love and grace, and people outside the church have a new interest in spiritual matters.

3. Education and awareness

Is your church intentional about learning and training up members about disability issues and equipping them to respond to the needs of people with disabilities? A brilliant way to do this is to host some Luke14 workshops which explores various aspects of disability. Contact me to find out more.

4. Outreach

Is your church intentional about making connections with people who have disabilities within the community? There are plenty of ways to do this. A good place to begin is to start a conversation with the Presbyterian Church’s disability advocate. It’s interesting to note in Jesus’ Parable of the Great Banquette (Luke 14:16-24), it wasn’t the ‘well-to-do’ who responded to the master’s invitation, but those who were marginalised. Those who lived on the city streets and lanes. Those who lived out of town. Those who were ‘poor, crippled, blind, and lame’ (vv21, 23). 

What does the ‘disability confident church’ look like? It looks like part of God’s mission to reconcile all things to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). People with disabilities have an integral role in the church, like all the other members, as bearing witness to God’s grace, and thereby building up the church. Their capacity lies in their ability to proclaim amidst adversity, in one form or another, that God is great, and he is good. This is a contribution that no church can afford to be without. The church needs to be ‘disability confident’.

Disability confident?

If you’d like to be more disability confident or seek ways to improve what you are already doing, get in touch with our Disability Advocate, Jason Forbes on and see how we can help.

Keep up with Jericho Road Disability Advocacy pages on Facebook and Instagram


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