Consider this adaptation from Luke 14,
Go quickly!. . . Find those who are blind, those who travel in wheelchairs, those in the grips of anxiety . . . find them and compel them to come!” Invite those who have been stigmatized and separated because of their disabilities. Compel everyone to come! For in doing so, you shall all experience blessing.
This year Anabaptist Disabilities Network coordinated the Accessibility Services at the MCUSA Convention in Orlando. ADN assisted the Mennonite Church denomination as they invited people with disabilities to participate in the body of Christ by facilitating greater access to worship, workshops, delegate meetings, and meals during the convention. Accessibility coordinator Elizabeth Vendley recounts the experience of Karen, a woman who joyfully participated in the convention thanks to the provisions of ADN’s Accessibility Services.
When Karen showed up at the Convention registration, she was….overwhelmed. The Orange County Convention Center is huge! The map indicated that worship and delegate sessions, workshops and meals would be separated by long walks, and this was a task she wasn’t physically capable of doing for the entire week. Karen, who was scheduled to be a workshop presenter later in the week, resigned herself to the disappointment that she’d need to spend most of the week in her hotel room. Thankfully, Karen caught sight of the ADN Accessibility Services table not far from the registration table. Here, she learned that ADN could provide her with a motorized scooter for the whole week. With the scooter available, Karen gladly and thankfully dived into convention activities with her granddaughter.
Karen Howard, of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, with her grand-daughter, Narya.
ADN ’s accessibility efforts at convention extended beyond providing scooters. Large print song sheets and maps were prepared for those with low vision, sign language interpretation was arranged, personal accompaniment was provided to those with intellectual disabilities, volunteers helped those with physical or vision disabilities to get their food during the bustling meal times, and volunteers were ready to help meet unique needs that cropped up during the week.
“Just as important as the tangible accommodations that we provided,” says Elizabeth, “was ADN’s presence and witness to the greater church. Be it within a tiny Mennonite congregation or at our national convention, the church needs to consider how to open the doors to engagement for individuals with disabilities.”
God’s kingdom cannot be understood or envisioned without the gifts, experiences, wisdom, and participation of those with disabilities. And yet today, as in Jesus’ time, people with disabilities often exist on the margins of the church.
However, Jesus’ parable in Luke is explicit. Make it possible for everyone to belong and join in! Make it known to all, with or without, disabilities that their participation and leadership is indispensable.
During the week of Convention, and every other week of the year, ADN strives to help congregations follow Jesus’ direction to nurture greater access for people with disabilities to fully participate in faith communities.
We hope to see you at the MCUSA Convention in Kansas City in 2019!
Many thanks to our volunteers for their hours of work supporting accessibility at the MCUSA Convention at Orlando. And, a big thank you to the Schowalter Foundation, Everence, and the convention planning team who helped to make this increase in accessibility services possible.