Diocesan Disability Advisory Group

First published on: 5th May 2022

Liverpool Diocese has always been a place of justice and bringing justice for all, and with this in mind Rev’d Laura Leatherbarrow is delighted to be our new chair of the DDAG which stands for Diocesan Disability Advisory Group; which includes under its umbrella those affected by deafness, physical, and invisible disability’s as well as mental health and neurodiverse people. As part of this role, she is also Bishops Advisor for Disability.

Rev’d Laura said, building on the strong foundations that have gone before, we know that as we move forward with the Diocese Fit for Mission plans, the need for churches to come on board to ensure all disabled people are included and welcomed. Disabled people are now one of the largest minority voices of our time and often some of the poorest in the country, and this makes it a justice issue.

This means her work will liaise with the Director of Social Justice, the Dean of Women and Diversity, the Racial Justice Officer and Together Liverpool and they will collaborate to promote and encourage justice and kindness in our Diocese.    

Rev’d Laura was keen to point out that the definition of disability is much broader than we sometimes think. Disability is now defined as: “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” So, in addition to physical and sensory impairment, disability includes mental health issues and learning disabilities, as well as “hidden” disabilities such as epilepsy, diabetes, arthritis, and various conditions which may cause chronic pain as well as those on the neurodiverse spectrum (ASD pathway) such as ADHD and Autism. It also includes those who live with deafness. 

So, you can see any church congregation is likely to have a considerable number of people living with disability, and we may not be aware of it. Strong emphasis is given in the legislation to involve disabled people in consultations about changes or developments to buildings.  So, part of DDAG work will be to help Laura perform audits and use the skills in the group to advise on any issues.

The national church is working on an award that will replace our Disability-friendly award and Rev Laura is sitting on the working group that is looking at producing a uniform award.

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As a Church what do you need to do?

The very first thing you can do is pray and ask anyone who you know who is disabled what the issues are for them, and respond first and foremost to those issues. We will encourage every church in the diocese as a minimum to have an audit with Rev’d Laura or one of the group's volunteers to first and foremost see where the difficulties are.

This is because for too long disabled have lived as the minority, but the legislation has an ‘anticipatory duty’ which means that it is not sufficient to wait until a disabled person comes to a church meeting or activity; churches have an obligation to plan and make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people. But - this is about more than legislation; it is also the message of the Gospel!

In Luke 14 (NRSV) Jesus tells the parable of the Great Banquet where we are encouraged to: “not invite your friends but to go out into the highways and byways and invite the poor, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed”.

In other words, the good news is to be spread to all nations and all people and this is our call as Christians-  to share the good news with all people and not just those who can enter a doorway at church for example!

A church without disabled people is an incomplete church.  We know that every church is different, and every disabled individual is different, but we also know that the attitude and culture of a church to welcome and value disabled people is central to all of this. We encourage you to approach your church through the eyes of Jesus who reached out to people on the margins of society, always treating individuals with dignity and value.

Over the next 12 months, we will be writing in the bulletin to try and raise awareness to some of the issues and attitudes faced by disabled people, celebrating the good things they have experienced in the course of their lives at churches, as well as the disappointing things in the hope that we can all learn together about what disability means for people and so begin to tackle the unconscious bias that we all have.

If your church is wanting to move forward with disability and this important area, then yes, an audit will be done at the beginning of the process, but we have also agreed as a group to dispatch a ‘Secret Shopper’ to help us to understand what some of the issues disabled people may feel.  This may be an in-person to a service or group or on the phone which also gives a vital role to those who no longer can get to church easily any more, as everyone has a part to play in the DDAG.

 

So who and what is the DDAG?

The DDAG is made up of people who have a disability in any form as covered by the Equality act and all are welcome. We also invite a few people who either care for the disabled as family carers or work in the sector in specialties.  So, we have people with physical disabilities of course, but we also have people with mental illnesses, or work as Speech therapists with those struggling with learning difficulties, as well as disability activists, invisible illnesses, people who are deaf and those who don’t even consider themselves disabled but who are covered by the Equality act.  

We have people who can no longer easily get to church and people who bring end-of-life issues to the forum. A sign language translator is available at the meetings which are a mix of in-person and on zoom, afternoon and evenings and we have around 6 meetings a year.

The group is voluntary, but its hope is that the skills we bring together through lived experience will feed into the new policies and documents and will provide help and support to churches that may have particular questions. For instance, a church would like advice around nonverbal autism and how to help people coming to the church or perhaps to set up a worshiping community. The Chair can bring it to a member in the group with a certain skill set and gain valuable advice to disseminate to the church in question.

More importantly than that this group is also about supporting every person who attends who has a physical, or mental health issues, people who are neurodiverse, who have an invisible illness, and those who are deaf, with a place where we can air those theological questions that affect disabled people and learn together what it means to be a community.

This role is about giving people a voice and more importantly about hearing it!

 

If you would like to join the DDAG contact Rev Laura via email laura.leatherbarrow@liverpool.anglican.org  

 


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