A Time For Preparation
The Implications of the Disability Discrimination Act on Our Parish Community

‘Christ loves us as we are, with our own particular gifts and limitations, strengths and weaknesses. Christ’s liberating message of love and hope celebrates difference because He values each and very person as unique and equal’ (Valuing Difference, Bishop’s Conference 1998).

The Community Development Project for the Inclusion of People with a Disability into the Life and Mission of the Church is an innovative project through which the Archdiocese of Southwark advocates and implements the inclusion of people with a disability into the spiritual, liturgical, catechetical, educational and social life of the Church.

As Christians our lives should reflect acceptance, welcome and inclusion. In 1998 the Bishops of England and Wales held a conference which explored the inclusion of people with a disability into the Life and Mission of the Church, the result of which was the publication of a document named ‘Valuing Difference’. Christ assigns status and value to each person, in his or her individuality and uniqueness. For many years, within the mainstream of society, people with varying degrees of disability have campaigned for status, value and equality.

Many people with disabilities are denied access to service simply because of their Disability rather than because of an inability to participate in services to which they, as human beings, have rights.

The Disability Discrimination Act is an innovative and visionary piece of legislation directly resulting from their campaign. This legislation asks the Church to include people with disabilities into all aspects of the Life and Mission of the Church, to show respect, value and equality to all, no matter what their ability; and to meet the person before meeting the disability.

The requirements of the Act began from December 1996 and the first two stages already apply.

As a ‘Service Provider’ St. Chad’s Church will from October 2004 have to provide other reasonable alternatives to making our service available where a physical feature makes it impossible or difficult for disabled persons to make use of the service, to provide reasonable alternative methods of making the service available (sensory and intellectual) and to plan access for the liturgical, spiritual, pedagogical and social activities of the church, determine existing barriers and begin to plan for and implement changes or make other ‘Reasonable Adjustments’.

The first phase of this process will entail a detailed Parish Audit (mini-census) of all parishioners. An audit of both the Church and Church Hall is also being undertaken. However, structural or other physical changes will not be required before 1st October 2004.

Once the audits have been completed the information will be collated and ‘Action Plans’ drawn up. We are working towards a deadline of April 2004 to have proactive ‘Action Plans’ in place and there is much to be done. Further information on this process and the community involvement will be made available at Mass in early October. A questionnaire will also be distributed on that occasion.

As we celebrate the European Year of the Disabled let us pray that we continue to be a welcoming community and that work to include people with a disability into every facet of our community life should not be ensured because of legislation, but because we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves and to live in love and service to all.

Father Barry