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Disability Ministries

Top 10 List of Accommodations

A lot of the questions we get from individuals and congregations are about cost-friendly resources, or being asked where a ministry can start with improving their accessibility beyond physical structure. So when members of the Disability Ministries advisory team met last month, we put together a “Top 10 list” of sorts that offers ideas, resources, and our thoughts on accommodations that can give a place to start.

This is not an all-encompassing list by any means, but we hope it can give you some ideas, many of which are low cost, on where you can begin the holy work of becoming more accessible in your Christian education programs.


Our Top 10 List of Accommodations A Congregation Can Make:

  1. Website Design: The way a website is laid out or the fonts chosen for a site can make it difficult, or impossible, for a blind person or a person with low vision to navigate. Here are some articles and resources on website design:


  1. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services Captioning Resources | NCRA: CART displays captioning in real time and can be used with screen readers and Braille displays and can be displayed with scalable font. CART can be a great resource in worship for Deaf, Blind, and Deaf/Blind communities.


  1. Adaptive art supplies for Christian Education: Our friends with disabilities can feel singled out because we sometimes need different or specialized writing and creative tools or items for adapted games that may be locally unavailable. Fortunately, you can find many easy things to have on hand!

These are just a few starter examples, but please note that some things that are helpful to disabled people are the same type of items used in preschools. If at all possible, do not purchase only the items intended for preschoolers. People of all ages benefit from these materials, and age-appropriate ones may be available.


UNO Braille 

Low Vision Playing Cards





Loop Scissors

Crayola Tripod Grip Markers


  1. Use a variety of Bibles: Large print options and the use of multiple translations of scripture can make worship and Bible study more accessible to different people.


  1. 5 Steps to Make Your Congregation More Autism Friendly (


  1. Resources for Blind or Visually-Impaired People: Hadley is a free education resource to help newly Blind and Blind people at all stages of life, offering courses from academic to basic life skills.


  1. Gluten-free Options for Holy Communion


  1. Update language/images used in worship, prayer, Bible study, etc.: The most common questions we get are related to language and how we speak about disability in worship and prayer or showing hospitality to people with disabilities. These articles can help guide you as you consider what is means to do away with ableist language in the life of a ministry or congregation:


  1. What large print REALLY is!


  1. Broadening your leadership: Learn to appreciate the giftedness of ALL your people—disabled and nondisabled— and use their gifts!

We hope this list of resources can be helpful to many of you! There are so many things out there a congregation or ministry site can do for accessibility and inclusion of the disability community. We pray that you will review this list and find other amazing resources as well.

Book Review: “The Difference that Disability Makes”

Book review by the Rev. Peter Heide

Michalko begins the difference that disability makes (Temple University Press, Mar 2002) in narrative conversation with a number of observations, ex. noting that throughout history people have put greater value on minerals and substances that are limited. Gold’s value comes from its scarcity; the same is true of diamonds and natural pearls. At one time salt was so valuable that it was used as a means of exchange. Michalko reminds us that salary comes from the practice of Rome paying its soldiers with salt.

Yet, when society regards the relative scarcity of people living with disabilities, the world chooses to devalue their lives thus depriving itself of the gifts that people who live with disability in daily living have to offer their societies and the world. “Therefore, [disability] has nothing to do with the individual. The disabled person is strictly a biological deviation from the normal body.

“…From this, follows [Mike] Oliver’s [social model] understanding of disability. Disability…is all the things that impose restrictions on disabled people, ranging from individual prejudice to institutional discrimination, from inaccessible public buildings to unusable transport systems, from segregated education to excluding work arrangements, and so on.

“…The simulacrum of disability paints it with the brush of misfortune, pity and victimage, yielding a number of contemporary assumptions about disability.” Society presumes the lives of people living with disabilities are perpetual suffering and therefore to be avoided in all circumstances.

The social model of disability does not refute that there is suffering, but it relocates where the suffering takes place. “Suffering then is an essential aspect…, but…we do not suffer the condition of our impairments as medicine and the rest of society would have it. We suffer our society. (emphasis mine) We suffer what our society makes of our impairments and this, according to the social model, is oppressive.”

It is only within the medical model of disability that individuals with a disability are seen as “suffering and incurable and thus unalterable biological conditions”. In turn we are then treated “with pity or even with scorn but [also]…with admiration if we adjust well within non-disabled standards. All with the understanding that, like everyone else, we hate being disabled.

“…Contemporary society understands disability as lack and subsequently treats [disability] as lack, particularly the lack of ability, figuring it within the frame of instrumental relations. The lack of the ability, to see, to hear, or to walk, is framed within the inability to do things that ordinarily and naturally adhere to these abilities.”

When this view of lacking is shifted from the individual to society, the identity of the person who lives with a disability regains personhood and the process of public accommodation can be addressed. Michalko presses the point that when consideration is made for accommodations, it is rarely the disability that influences society’s willingness to make change. It is always cost.

The question throughout this book continues to be how valued and valuable people who live with disability are to the societies they live in. It is past the time for society to think about people living with disabilities and think about the future with them.

There were so many times that, as a blind reader, I wanted to get up and shout, “YES!” Finally, someone is speaking for me.” I highly recommend this book to any who would like a deeper understanding of the difference between the medical (curative) model of disability and the social (accommodations) model of disability. As a church and society, we can only benefit from Michalko’s work and come to appreciate the difference disability makes.


Biography—Rod Michalko is retired. He formerly taught Disability Studies at University of Toronto, OISE, and York University. Some of his other books include:

The Mystery of the Eye and the Shadow of Blindness March 1998

The Two-In-One (Part of the Animals, Culture, and Society Series) December 1998

Rethinking Normalcy: A Disability Studies Reader (with Tanya Titchkosky)  May 2009

Things Are Different Here July 2017
Letters with Smokie: Blindness and More-Than-Human Relations (with Dan Goodley)  September 2023

The tAble

by Rev. Jonathan Vehar

Every three years in the days leading up to the ELCA Youth Gathering a unique event takes place that gathers young people together for worship, service, and fellowship. And if you’re thinking, “isn’t that what the Youth Gathering does?”, you’d be right. But what makes The tAble exceptional is that it brings together youth who have a shared experience of living with a disability. We know that every youth who comes to The tAble brings their own story, struggles, triumphs, and ways that they experience the world around them. But they also share an identity as a child of God who has created them to be fully themselves. They discover a sense of belonging, knowing that others who are there get the part of their story that isn’t translatable to the able-bodied world.

The biggest challenge that the tAble faces is that only a fraction of the young people in our churches who live with a disability even know about it. But you can help by spreading the word that such a community exists. And then being creative to make it possible to be at the tAble, where a place is waiting. Find out more at

ELCA Disability Grants 2023

Congratulations to the five recipients of the ELCA Disability Ministries grants for 2023! We have invited each to offer a snapshot of the project their grant will be fun, ding.

Thank you to all applicants! It is amazing to learn about all that is being done across our church for accessibility and inclusion! We were blown away by the number of project applications submitted and all that they entailed for your ministries. We hope those not chosen this time around will consider applying in the future.

I want to offer a special thanks to the advisory team for all their hard work in reviewing the grant applications and proposals. Thank you for all you do!

–Rev. Lisa Heffernan, ELCA Disability Ministries coordinator

2023 Grant Recipients

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, IA

Located in the heart of the Quad Cities, St. Paul Lutheran Church is a congregation of over one thousand families, many of whom have children and teens who identify as autistic or neurodivergent. Social Spectrum began at St. Paul in the summer of 2022 as a support group for parents and caregivers of neurodivergent individuals to connect and find empathy with one another. The stories, experiences, and needs shared within this group clearly identified several opportunities for growth in the ways the church as a whole welcomes, supports, and empowers neurodivergent children and youth and their families.  The funding from the ELCA Disability Ministries grant will bolster St. Paul’s efforts to address these needs, amplify autism inclusivity and awareness, and hopefully inspire other congregations to do the same.  

Specifically, St. Paul’s Social Spectrum will use grant funding to: 1) launch an inclusive family-learning style Sunday School class; 2) train St. Paul staff and volunteers who work with kids on how best to nurture and support neurodivergent children and youth; 3) construct a sensory-friendly space for faith formation for all ages; and 4) equip neurotypical teens to act as buddies and advocates for their neurodivergent peers. Through these initiatives, St. Paul aims to embrace and raise up an historically under-valued and excluded population in the church, thereby modeling a more inclusive, supportive, and whole community of faith. 

Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Seymour, WI

Park Vision: Working together, Emmanuel will build an inclusive and accessible community park to inspire, support, celebrate, and equip neurodivergent children and adults to fulfill their potential in life.

What is God asking us to do? An inclusive park!

Families with neurodivergent individuals and people dependent on mobility devices face many challenges but enjoying a park shouldn’t be one of them! Inspired by God’s hope and love, Emmanuel will create an inclusive park different from others in the Seymour area and develop accompanying ministries to enrich the lives of families in our community. We celebrate, inspire, and support neurodivergent children, adults, and their caregivers by creating a gathering place for all ages and abilities.

Working together, we reach, teach, and serve by building a community playground where children of all capabilities play side-by-side. This accessible area includes surfaces and ramps for children and adults to engage equipment with or without mobility devices. Emmanuel’s truly inclusive playground is designed for all abilities to participate in various activities at varying difficulty levels within the same space. We share God’s love by respecting and embracing the different ways God has created us. We purposely removed many barriers, so all God’s children feel part of His kingdom and experience the joy of play!

Our faith leads us to establish a community where all feel welcomed and valued. The inclusive park honors this belief by including spaces for multiple uses and all generations. Along with the playground, the complete project consists of bathroom facilities and a pavilion for church gatherings, celebrations, fellowship, and faith formation.

Peace Lutheran Church, Gahanna, OH

 Our goal at Peace Lutheran Church is to move from service ‘for’ people with disabilities to service ‘with’ people with disabilities.  We currently provide a program for adults with disabilities that includes a week-long summer resident camp, a bi-weekly Bible Study/Social Group and a Saturday morning respite.  For a variety of reasons, we struggle with recruiting volunteers.

The goal of our funded project, Friendship Connections, is to empower people to volunteer their services to connect with people with disabilities, to help broaden the scope of our congregation’s current ministry to become a more welcoming and inclusive community.   With education, coaching and hands on experience participants will increase their understanding and confidence.   The project has three components: 1) group sessions targeting education, etiquette and awareness, 2) direct experiences with adults with disabilities and 3) creation of a ‘what’s next’ project for each participant to complete the one-year experience.

We are grateful for the grant and excited about the coming year as we implement our plans.  We hope to open the hearts and minds of the project participants to allow for new and fulfilling relationships with others whom they may otherwise have avoided.



North Avenue Mission, Baltimore, MD

 North Ave Mission (NAM) is a Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community of the Delaware/ Maryland Synod of the ELCA. NAM is a fellowship of people experiencing homelessness, people who are food and housing insecure, people who use drugs and people in recovery, LGBTQ+, those living with physical disability or mental illness and those with lived experience of trauma, racism and hate along with their supporters, in central Baltimore. Centering the leadership and following the visions of those most directly impacted by structural racism and unjust systems, we walk together as we care for our community and one another. Most people in the NAM community and leadership have disabilities ranging from mobility limitations which require assistive devices, treated and untreated mental illness, substance misuse disorder, significant neurodiversity, and a variety of chronic diseases. The community comes together to encourage and support one another on their journeys, to worship, and to serve the wider community.

Many in the NAM community have remarkable gifts for ministry. Some speak powerfully in testimony, others write and share profound theology and theopoetics, some have the gift of encouragement and building others up, some post daily messages of gratitude and prayer each morning. Others share their perspectives through freestyle and other creative arts. Still others pitch in to make sure Family Life is set up properly, share worship leadership, and ensure that the service runs smoothly. People with disabilities are already and have always been in leadership roles within the NAM community and now some are ready to take the next steps to hone their gifts further so they can be shared beyond the worshipping community.

Building on Leadership Gifts will provide mentoring, hard and soft skill-building, learning opportunities, and enhanced wellbeing supports for three to four specific members of the NAM community for one year so that they can grow as leaders to share their gifts both within and beyond NAM. All four of these individuals will benefit greatly from training and coaching in communications to enable them to write out drafts, workshop with each other’s writing, put into words both faith and the long-term effects of the systemic oppression they have experienced, and grasp the many and varied forms the written and spoken word can take. We are planning a six-month curriculum that will include one-on-one coaching sessions as well as small group workshops for learning, trying out public speaking in safe environments, providing feedback to one another, developing each person’s unique voice, and learning the soft skills of leadership.

Pastor Elazar Zavaletta, Mission Developer at NAM, will identify appropriate ways for these emerging leaders to be connected to settings beyond NAM, while also providing additional leadership opportunities within the NAM community. Experiencing the DE/MD Synod Assembly will increase understanding of the wider church.

Pine Lake Lutheran Camp, Crossways Camping Ministries, WI

Pine Lake Lutheran Camp (part of Crossways Camping Ministries) is excited to extend a wider welcome to faith-filled, camp programming for youth and adults with disabilities! Thanks to the generosity of the ELCA Disability Ministries, Pine Lake Camp will be able to implement new programming and additional supports for campers with disabilities.  Our new Self-Determination Camp Program is welcoming adults with disabilities in the middle of August. Young adults with disabilities will come together to create connections, experience traditional camp elements, and create individualized plans for participation in order to engage in meaningful church and community ministry upon their arrivals home.

Alongside our tailored program, we aim to include a wider community of youth and family program participants throughout the summer by employing an Inclusion Advocate who will serve three primary audiences at three primary times. Our Inclusion Advocate will work with camper families, campers seeking additional support, and the camp staff to provide meaningful supports and needed accessibility.  Our Inclusion Advocate will coordinate needed supports in advance of weekly camp programming.  In addition, support from the Inclusion Advocate to the staff or campers will happen throughout the onsite week.   Finally, Our Inclusion Advocate will record important details after the camp program has completed, in order to plan for future success in other camp programs.

In addition to our new Self-Determination Camp program and Inclusion Advocate staff position, we are investing in other ways to build meaningful relationships and opportunities for our siblings in Christ with disabilities. We are working with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to train, support and employ a young adult with disabilities on our current camp staff.  In addition, we welcomed a self advocate with an Intellectual and developmental disability, to lead a staff training session on best practices for including and supporting campers with disabilities.




July is Disability Pride Month

This month’s article is written by ELCA Disability Ministries Advisory team member Rev. Peter Heide, written from a perspective of blindness.

“Organizations by and for people with disabilities have existed since the 1800’s.” [1] In 1921, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Home | American Foundation for the Blind ( was created to help veterans who had been blinded during World War I. Through the AFB, supported by Helen Keller and the national organization of Lions (Keller called them the Knights of the Blind), great strides were made creating employment opportunities for the blindness community (e.g., Randolph-Sheppard Act, 1936) Randolph Sheppard Vending Facility Program | Rehabilitation Services Administration ( and access to books through the National Library Service (NLS) “Talking Book” program NLS at the Library of Congress – National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) | Library of Congress (

Yet, by the end of the 30’s, there was a realization that, if blind people were going to gain parity with sighted people, blind people were going to need to advocate for themselves. In November 1940, Jacobus TenBroek and others living with blindness, formed the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Homepage | National Federation of the Blind ( Its tagline is, “Live the life you want.” Through the advocacy of the NFB, progress was made in gaining better education and training for job opportunities that focused more on what blind people wished to do rather than areas sighted people relegated them to.

Later unrest in the NFB caused a number of blind people to break with the NFB. In July 1961, a new consumer group, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) Home | American Council of the Blind (, was formed. It too advocates for the needs of the blind in living independent lives. ACB’s tagline is, “Together for a bright future.”

It is little known or recognized that these organizations have not only advocated for the needs of the blind, but that these organizations have contributed to the case of Brown v Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the 70s, Judith (Judy) Heumann led advocacy work for people using wheelchairs. She, with the NFB, ACB, the Deaf community, and other disability advocacy groups, helped write and pressure congress to pass the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which was signed by Pres. George H.W. Bush in July 1990.

In recognition of the enactment of the ADA, July is designated Disability Pride month. The continued work of advocacy by and for the disabled continues to make life for many safer and better. At the same time, the work they do adds to the lifestyles of the sighted. The availability of audio books and voice-activated hands-free phones are only two of the things that the general population benefits from. Wheelchair ramps also benefit us all by often making bicycle travel safer and easing the lives of parents pushing strollers. Accommodations for people living with disabilities makes life for all of us better.

Happy Disability Pride Month!



[1] Disability History: The Disability Rights Movement (U.S. National Park Service) (

Grants: Next Steps for Applicants

Dear Friends in Christ,

On behalf of myself and the Disability Ministries advisory team, I wanted to say “thank you!” to everyone who applied for one of our grants of up to $10,000. We were blown away by the response and interest of so many congregations, camps, and other ministries. If you remember, we said we would take the first thirty applications that came to us into consideration before ultimately choosing five to receive the funding. Well, you all got to work! We received almost double the amount we will be able to consider this time around.

While we are saddened to not be able to consider them all right now, we do encourage those whose applications came in after the cut off to apply again the next time we are receiving applications. I will be in touch soon with those applicants on what your next steps could be for the time being.

To those we will be reviewing: Please be on the lookout for an email to come from me soon indicating that you are moving along in the process. Over the next eight weeks the advisory team will be reading through your applications and making the hard decision to narrow things down to the five who will be the recipients of the funding. That means that shortly after May 1st we will be making and announcing those decisions. For now, please keep a watch on your email and communications for any questions or needs for clarifications that the review/advisory team may need. I will follow up with the other twenty-five and look at possible next steps as well.

Again, thank you so much for your support of what we do at ELCA Disability Ministries. Especially, we thank God for you and the way the Spirit is moving you to make accessibility and equity for people with disabilities a priority in the lives of your ministries.



Rev. Lisa E. Heffernan