June 1, 2018

Improving Inclusion – Part 1: Words Matter

Projects to improve accessibility are often included in church capital campaigns. In my work as a capital campaign consultant with ECF, I witness congregations choosing ramps, restrooms large enough for caregivers to enter with their adult loved one, hearing loops, wider doorways, lowering the altar rail to the main level of the nave, and other changes to make it clear that all are welcome.

As our awareness of physical barriers increases, let us also consider whether our language and behavior send messages of, “You are truly welcome.” Consider the differences between these sentences:

“We need a handicap restroom.”
“We need to provide a restroom for all people.”
“Bill is now confined to a wheelchair.”
“Bill now uses a wheelchair.”
“Most kids in our Sunday School are normal.”
“Most kids in our Sunday School do not have disabilities.”

At the website Disability Is Natural, author Kathie Snow reminds us that the words used to describe us have an impact on our lives:

For too long, people who happen to have conditions we call "disabilities" have been subjected to devaluation, marginalization, prejudice, and more. And the first way to devalue someone is through language, by using words or labels to identify a person/group as "less-than," as "the other," "not like us," and so forth. Once a person/group has been identified this way, it makes it easier to justify prejudice and discrimination. Our language shapes our attitudes; our attitudes shape our language; they're intertwined. And our attitudes and language drive our actions! – From the People First Language page of the Disability is Natural website.

It’s wonderful that many churches are removing the physical barriers built into the architecture of the past. May our words match our actions with inclusion and love.