This is the first in a series of posts on youth ministry and youth with disabilities.

While accommodations may be needed to integrate people with disabilities into your youth ministry group settings, it is important to first emphasize what all group members have in common.  Youth workers can emphasize to the group that, despite a wide variety of individual differences, all members are there for the same reasons.  Everyone is present to explore what it means to be a part of God’s unfolding story.

Some groups with a single person who has a visible disability may meet on a regular basis, and disabilities are never discussed.  For other groups, this topic may emerge quickly.  Although it’s not possible to have one rule that applies to all situations, there are some common considerations.  Group members should be oriented to any special considerations that someone with a disability may require in order to effectively participate.  Discussions about an individual’s disability can be quite therapeutic to the one with a disability and likewise educational to those who do not.

Group members (students and adults) can be trained to assist in making accommodations for peers who have disabilities.  It is important, however, to work with nondisabled students to minimize their enabling of or overcompensating for people with disabilities.  It is appropriate to describe to the group the practical aspects of helping the person with a disability, and ask that person to describe what he or she expects people around him or her to do.  It is not uncommon for a person with a disability to ask for assistance when needed however, for a person with less awareness or acceptance of their disability, it is important that peers are aware of what is appropriate help to offer.

When working with people with disabilities in a group setting, youth workers may find it useful to alter group participation expectations, limit the time in group, and work with the group to extend the group learning experience outside the confines of the group meeting.  While the actual accommodations used will likely be tailored to each individual, there are some general strategies (to be discussed in future posts) that have been successful in making the youth group gatherings more accessible for individuals with particular types of disabilities. (i.e., sensory disabilities, cognitive and intellectual disabilities, and physical disabilities)

One simple question:

Are your youth group gatherings welcoming and accessible to youth with disabilities?