On Wednesday, July 12, the national Autism Society hosted a free training on Faith Inclusion as part of their annual conference that was held in Milwaukee this year. A panel of international experts in Faith Inclusion, including people from Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish and Islamic faith traditions, gave short presentations and led participants in discussions. Apostolate for Persons with Disabilities – Diocese of Madison (Apostolate) staff members Kellie O’Brien and Deacon Jim Hoegemeier attended the training.
A primary theme of the training was that faith communities are incomplete when they do not actively seek to include people with disabilities as full members. By not being welcoming to people with disabilities, faith communities lose the opportunity provide ministry to individuals and families facing challenges to disabilities. More importantly, faith communities lose out on the benefits of having people with disabilities provide ministry to all of their members.
Interactive discussions took place related to the many challenges of building a truly inclusive faith community. Many people fail to recognize that all people, regardless of any challenges related to disabilities, have deep questions and desires related to spirituality. Many people have the misperception that any effort to provide accessible buildings and programs will cost a significant amount of money. When the appropriate people, especially people with disabilities and their families, are ensured of a spot “at the table” when it comes to discussing and planning how a faith community can be more inclusive, a significant amount of progress can be made, much of which can take place with minimal or no cost.
Staff of the Apostolate have the expertise and desire to assist any Catholic parish, school or organization in the Diocese of Madison in developing and implementing plans to be more welcoming and inclusive of people with disabilities and their families. Contact us whenever we can be of assistance.