As a general modification to the typical youth ministry gathering, it is necessary to accept different types of body positioning for people with disabilities – some people may need to stand up or move during group, and this activity should not be considered rude. Youth workers may have to keep group meetings short or schedule frequent breaks to help people who lack physical stamina and make allowances for increased travel time to gatherings for people who use wheelchairs or rely on public transportations.
Sometimes students with spasticity or other motor problems, such as those associated with quadriplegia, have voluntary or involuntary movements that are sudden and unusual for people not familiar with them. The youth worker should ensure that group members are not distracted by these movements and understand that they are a normal manifestation of some disabilities.
Youth workers are weary, and rightfully should be, of personal boundary issues (e.g. the side hug with members of the opposite sex). With a student with a physical disability that sense of what is proper may need to be modified for some in need of assistance, such as adjusting a wheelchair, etc. When the proper course of assistance is not apparent, ask the student of family for guidance.
The relative height of the youth worker and disabled student, when seated and talking, may also be an important consideration when working with a student who has a physical disability. Disproportionately great differences in seated height can hinder communication, especially relative to body language.
If a student with a disability has limited transportation options, the creative youth worker will find ways to minster to them and their family. Often visiting them at home or at an alternative site is will allow the youth worker to gain valuable insights into a person’s life and ultimately facilitate effective ministry. It also communicates to the student that they are valued enough to make the effort (we’re hopefully doing this to all students). Going to the residence of a student with disability also provides invaluable information about that student’s lifestyle, interests, and immediate environmental challenges.
Lastly, we must take into consideration not only the physical limitations the student might have, such as; playing certain games or traveling over certain terrain, but also the psychological and social consequences of the disability. Issues that may need to be addressed can include impulsivity, social isolation, low self-awareness relative to medical or psychological needs, anger, feelings of hopelessness, or outright fear at living life with the disability. These issues are hardly new to a seasoned youth worker, nor are the unique to persons with disabilities; however, a disability may exaggerate the severity of these conditions or their impact on your ministry efforts.