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When churches break down architectural and communication barriers, people with disabilities can get involved in the life of a church. However, unless members change their attitudes about disability, their engagement in church life will always be at the periphery.

The following continuum describes five stages along the journey of disability attitudes, helping individuals and congregations examine their own attitudes and providing direction for those wanting to engage people with disabilities fully in church life.

Five stages of changing attitudes about people with disabilities

1

Ignorance

Not knowing people with disabilities, nor knowing about them, frequently resulting in anxiety and judgment. A typical attitude: “Their disabilities may result from sin or a lack of faith. God doesn’t use people who are so broken.” Increasing awareness about the challenges faced by people with disabilities will begin a movement from ignorance to…
2

Pity

Feeling sorry for people with disabilities. “I feel sorry for that man who is blind. There but for the grace of God go I.” When churches begin making their buildings, communication, and programming accessible, their members begin to exchange pity for…
3

Care

Desiring to show care to people who are affected by disability because they are created in God’s image. “We need to find ways to help those people. Maybe we should start a special church education class or respite care for the sake of the parents.” As members with disabilities are integrated into the life of the congregation, the church moves toward…
4

Friendship

Initiating relationships with people who have disabilities. “God brings many different people into my church, including people with disabilities, and we all benefit as we grow in friendship with each other.” As members with disabilities engage in the full life of the congregation, friends become…
5

Co-laborers

Engaging in ministry by people with and without disabilities. “Together, we who live with disabilities and we who live without disabilities encourage and equip each other in every good work.”

Suggested resources:

Dan Vander Plaats

Dan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services, a global, Christian disability ministry based in Crestwood, Illinois. Dan serves on the advisory committee for a bi-denominational Disability Concerns. In 2009, he developed “The 5 Stages: Changing Attitudes” to help churches and individuals assess and change their attitudes toward people with disabilities, and he’s the author of Changing Attitudes about Disability. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra) and is father to Ben and Emma.