conversations on the fringe


Hearing impairment

Disabled Youth and Youth Ministry Gatherings (pt. 6 – marketing to disabled youth and families)

It is not enough for a youth ministry program to simply be ready to serve the Disabled Youth Community.  Rather, the ministry should be proactive in making the Disabled Youth Community aware of it’s accessability.  It is hoped that any ministry targeting  youth with disabilities will be in contact from the outset with any known families or organizations serving them. It would not be a bad idea to contact such agencies to present your willingness to provide ministry opportunities for students and families that are interested, thereby providing a person contact for any of the referring staff.  Of course, the best promotion for your youth group are students with positive experiences of interacting with your youth group. 


Outreach material should assure potential students that your ministry gatherings are able to provide accessible, age appropriate youth ministry experiences for persons with a disability.  In addition to stating that accommodations and alternative communication strategies can be provided as needed, you may wish to assure the students with disabilities that they are welcome by including the universal accessibility symbol on your literature or website.











There are many facets of an outreach ministry that can be modified to accommodate the needs of youth with disabilities:

  • Tailor marketing materials, including signage, messages, brochures, website, and yellow pages ads to people with disabilities.  Have all such material state that accommodations are available.
  • If the ministry is committed to serving persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, have a dedicated line for a TDD, and have that TDD number printed on all outreach communications.
  • Provide a sign interpreter if one is available.
  • Create and use mailing lists of organizations that serve people with disabilities.
  • Conduct specialized training and presentations (include students with disabilities in the creation of) for adult volunteers and student leaders.
  • Adapt conference trips, camps, retreats, etc. with the disabled youth in mind.
  • Recruit students with disabilities to the student leader team or hire an intern/staff with a disability.
  • Work with family and support agencies (if necessary) to determine style of learning for students with cognitive impairments.
  • Link with particular disability groups for their expertise and to create staff training opportunities.
  • Be conscious of intersections (e.g. Latino youth who is gay and disabled)

Every ministry should expect to have students for whom they will have to make accommodations, but many of these accommodations will not require extensive or expensive changes.  Perhaps even more importantly, making accommodations and adapting your ministry for youth based on their functional limitation should create and environment in which they can be restored to community.  Often these disabilities carry with them stigmas that separate and isolation occurs.  God’s purpose for all of us is to participate in the restorative activity of God in this world.  This is just one of many ways we can do that.



Disabled Youth and Youth Ministry Gatherings (pt. 5 – physical disabilities)

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.

Disabled Youth and Youth Ministry Gatherings (pt. 3 – hearing impairments)

If a student who is deaf is using an interpreter, group members will need to take turns during discussions.  If several people are talking at the same time, which is not uncommon in youth group meetings, the interpreter will be unable to communicate all the information. 

Requiring people to raise their hands before speaking is a good method to ensure that only one person is speaking at a time, as decided beforehand the order in which students will speak.  In a group setting the student who is deaf will normally be a few seconds or minutes behind the hearing group members; it will usually take longer to interpret a sentence that it took for the person to speak it.  An interpreter must understand the context before interpreting and it may happen that a message will require more signs than words. 

The youth leader should make a point of asking students who are dear for their responses and questions to ensure they are included in the discussion.  If a group lasts more than an hour, two interpreters may be necessary, because interpreting can be very fatiguing.

Not all individuals who are deaf are fluent in sign language, and some, such as a student who is deaf and blind, may have some very particular communication needs.  You can learn about these accommodations simply by talking to the student or their family.

Other considerations:

  • Lighting is important when there is a person who is deaf in a ministry program.  Lighting needs to be sufficient for the person who is deaf to see the interpreter, especially during a movie or video clip when the lights need to be dimmed.
  • Blinds or curtains might need to be closed to minimize glare and enable the person who is deaf to see their interpreter.

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