30 Things You Can Do to Be Hospitable to People with Disabilities

  1. When talking with someone who has a disability, look at that person—not at the interpreter or companion.
  2. When hosting someone for a meal, ask if they have any food allergies or diet restrictions.
  3. Use person-first language such as “a person who has schizophrenia” or “Mary uses a wheelchair.”
  4. Avoid using such words/phrases as retarded, wheelchair-bound, suffers from, handicapped, able-bodied, victim, defect.
  5. Don’t lean on someone’s wheelchair.
  6. When talking to someone in a wheelchair, take a seat to position yourself at the person’s eye level.
  7. Don’t interact with a guide dog.
  8. When interacting with someone who has a visual disability, say who you are when you approach and announce when you leave.
  9. Be flexible when people in the congregation or their medical devices make additional noise.
  10. Label foods at potlucks, especially when they contain nuts or gluten.
  11. Seek permission and instructions before assisting someone.
  12. If anyone in your congregation has a disability or a child with a disability that requires costly accommodations, consider how your church might offer to assist in paying for such costs.
  13. Offer respite care to a spouse or parent of someone who has a disability or long-term illness.
  14. When talking with someone who has an intellectual disability, speak in your normal tone.
  15. When listening to someone who has difficulty speaking, be patient and ask him to repeat what you did not understand instead of pretending that you understood.
  16. Avoid calling people with disabilities kids or addressing them with words like honey; address them as you would anyone else.
  17. Invite an adult or child with disabilities to your home or on an outing and find out in advance about the person’s preferences and needs.
  18. As a way to provide relief to parents, offer to sit one time each month during worship with their child who has a disability.
  19. Explore websites that offer education about disability issues, such as www.crcna.org/disability, www.rca.org/disabilities, and www.clcnetwork.org/church_services.
  20. Buy and read a book such as Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality by Thomas Reynolds or Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities by Barbara J. Newman. Then donate it to your church library.
  21. Sit near people with disabilities during worship.
  22. Offer transportation (to church, medical appointments, etc.) to someone who has a disability.
  23. Just say hi.
  24. Volunteer with or consider starting a Friendship ministry at your church (www.friendship.org).
  25. Teach your children how to interact with people in their lives who have a disability.
  26. When assisting a person with visual impairments, allow her to hold on to you, rather than you holding on to her.
  27. Do not gossip about someone who is socially awkward or different.
  28. Encourage your kids to befriend kids who have disabilities.
  29. Send a note of encouragement to someone with a disability or to his or her caregiver.
  30. Offer to pick up supplies or prescriptions for someone with a disability or his family.

These ideas were gathered from the Christian Reformed Church Handbook for Disability Advocates and from interviews with individuals. The CRC and the Reformed Church in America collaborated to produce this resource. Additional copies can be printed to hang in your church at www.crcna.org/disability.

About the Author

Lindsay Wieland Capel is a social worker at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and a volunteer for Christian Reformed Disability Concerns. She's happiest when she's with her husband, Tyson, and son, Levi.

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