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Alabama churches becoming aware of needs of disabled

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (BP)–For most people a quick trip to a public restroom is no big deal. But to a person with a physical disability who uses a wheelchair, scooter or other assisting device, it is more often than not a frustrating experience.

“One of my pet peeves is having to struggle to get into position to wash my hands in the sink and then turning to see the paper towel holder at the other end of the room – usually out of my reach,” said Emily Van Vakenburgh of Huntsville, Ala. who recently attended a “That All May Worship” disabilities workshop at the Valley View Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Another conference attendee, Linda Lamberth, echoed Van Vakenburgh’s sentiments. “I tried going to the restroom at a McDonalds the other day and I couldn’t get my wheelchair through the stall door which was supposed to be in compliance,” she said.

“I’ve been in a wheelchair for the last six years and the way some people treat you because you sit in a chair all day is amazing. I don’t think of myself as disabled” said Lamberth, a new resident of Birmingham, Ala. “I just happen to sit a lot.”

Illustrating her point, Lamberth, a mother of three, said she recently took up sailing because it was something she had always wanted to do. “I go out on the weekends on a 22-foot boat and sail with my kids,” she said. “Now how disabled is that?”

Chris Aldridge, a workshop leader and pastor of Derma Baptist Church in Derma, Miss., said education is important when it comes to understanding disabilities.

Aldridge, the father of a child with Down’s Syndrome, offered the following suggestions:

— Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

— Be open and interested in finding out about a disabled person’s special needs.

— Become informed.

— Get involved with them socially.

— Never compare one person’s disability to another.

— Offer emotional and practical support.

— Allow them to vent their frustrations.

— Keep communication lines open.

— See the person and not the disability.

Betty Brown of Birmingham’s Brewster Road Baptist Church teaches a special needs adult Sunday School class and said her pastor asked her to attend the conference.

“We wanted to see what else we could do to minister to them,” she said. “This seminar has given me an increase awareness that each person is an individual and is precious to God with special abilities that need to be utilized.”

Denise Smith, the mother of a 15-year-old son with special needs, said she praised the church for the sensitivity and awareness they have for their special needs members.

“My son is fully included in everything here at the church. He goes to youth camp in the summer,” she said. “I was worried about him going but our youth minister said that it was the church’s responsibility to take care of him during camp. I’ve never had anyone try to discourage him from participating in classes with other children. He’s always participated in all church and school activities.”

Some churches are further down the road in their efforts to start disabilities ministries. Two Birmingham churches, The Church at Brook Hills and Shades Mountain Baptist, both have developed active disability ministries. The ministries are continuing to branch out into specific areas such as a “buddy ministry” for special needs children during Sunday school and church time and “kids night out, respite ministry” for parents of special needs children.

Ron Pittman, buddy ministry coordinator at Brook Hills said their ministry is undergoing phenomenal growth. “We have around 20 buddies right now and the phone keeps ringing with people wanting to get involved,” he said.

“This ministry has been a blessing for the children, families and workers,” Pittman said. “It has spread by word of mouth in the Birmingham community and we’ve had several families join the church as a direct result of this ministry being offered for their children.”

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  • Sue Ann Miller