More than 15 million Texans belong to a faith-based group. While churches and other faith-based organizations want to welcome everyone, many do not know how to reach out and create comfortable environments for people with disabilities. Last year, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities approved funding for four projects that each holds an annual symposium and works to develop inclusive faith-based communities. These three-year projects bring together religious leaders to compare experiences, share resources and learn how to support people with disabilities in their communities.
TCDD awarded Inclusive Faith-Based Communities Symposium grants to four organizations:
One Star Foundation is collaborating with Jewish Family Services and the Center on Disability and Development at Texas A&M University on the Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network. The network serves the Travis County area and includes 25 faith-based organizations representing Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, interfaith, Muslim, Protestant and Evangelical congregations. Its first symposium in October 2012 brought together 100 people from the faith and disability communities to explore best practices, goal setting and collaborative problem solving. The participants also developed action plans to work on inclusion in their community. The second symposium will be Oct. 16, 2013. The network also developed various resources for faith-based leaders, such as short videos on inclusion and links to blogs, audio clips and sermons. Additionally, One Star Foundation produced “Every Member Matters: An Information and Resource Kit” for faith-based communities. This includes tips for engaging people with disabilities, suggestions from family members, and information on community supports, physical and attitudinal accessibility and religious education.
Jewish Family Service of Dallas is building a collaborative group in Dallas, Collin, Denton and Rockwall counties, called the Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas (FIND), and sharing strategies to build community awareness and inclusion. FIND is working with 19 faith-based communities, 42 community service agencies and 10 advocacy organizations.
More than 150 people attended the first Greater Dallas area symposium on Feb. 25, 2013. The project also conducted a community survey that indicated that more than half of the respondents believe their faith community does little to accommodate people with disabilities. While barriers to participation include a lack of services and inadequate staff training, many resources already exist. FIND is working to empower leaders from faith communities to create opportunities to support people with disabilities and their families so these individuals can be fully engaged socially, emotionally, academically and spiritually.
The Arc of Greater Tarrant County (IDD Needs Council of Tarrant County) is partnering with the local faith-based community to facilitate the full inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into faith communities of their choice. Information on inclusive practices is being provided at two faith-based symposia, with the first held May 28-30, 2013. It included topics such as People First language, transportation, inclusiveness, bullying and respite. Each participating group returned to its community with an implementation plan, supports, follow-up and a charge to assist other groups in duplicating their efforts to create more welcoming, inclusive atmospheres in places of worship. The project also plans to develop a toolkit for faith organizations on including and ministering to individuals with developmental disabilities, which includes information communication and sensory differences, as well as a guide to navigating services and local resources.
West Central Texas Regional Foundation is working to fully include people with disabilities in faith-based communities in Callahan, Jones and Taylor counties. The project developed a self-evaluation faith-based organizations can use to determine if their programs and buildings are accessible for persons with developmental disabilities. Its results will be used to publish an online directory of faith-based organizations that lists accessible programs and structures. A symposium was held in Abilene on April 13, 2013, to present best practices and dispel misperceptions regarding disabilities. Topics included ministering to individuals with disabilities, different types of disabilities and experiences, tips for parents and caregivers on obtaining needed supports, behavior intervention, and resources to help adults with special needs achieve their full potential in a Christian environment. Faith-based leaders also worked on an action plan to improve the inclusiveness at faith communities. Several small events are being held this year, along with the second symposium in 2014, to increase participation across the rural region and metropolitan area to ensure active participation within faith-based communities for all.