Priesthood and other Church leaders have been invited by the First Presidency to seek “more creative ways of providing religious training for those with physical, mental, and emotional impairments” (First Presidency statement, Church News, Apr. 29, 1989, 7). Doing so will bring stake and ward families closer together, especially as leaders and members become more aware of the needs and contributions of members with disabilities.
Church leaders have a responsibility to care for every member of their flock, including members with disabilities. A typical ward has members of all ages with a variety of disabilities. Members of the Church, though varying in intellectual and physical capabilities, can all benefit from the gospel. Joseph Smith taught that “all the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement” (History of the Church, 6:311).
Church leaders and teachers should keep the following in mind as they work with those who have disabilities in their ward and strive to increase awareness and understanding of disabilities in their ward:
- Seek ways to help the individuals with disabilities feel loved, accepted, and included. Search for and consider their needs and the needs of their families
- Seek to understand an individual’s needs with sensitivity and compassion before offering to help. Foster a relationship of trust.
- Help ward members understand the individuals’ disabilities and their needs. This will help ward members gain greater compassion, understanding, and inspiration on how to support those with disabilities and their loved ones.
- Allow ward members with disabilities to be as independent as possible. The gospel principle of self-reliance, appropriately applied, bless the lives of all, including those with disabilities. Church-directed programs of help should be in compliance with Church policies as outlined in Church handbooks.
Ways to Help
- Seek and discuss ideas to promote understanding of disabilities. This can be done in stake and ward councils as well as other leadership meetings.
- Consider how adapting or supplementing regular Church programs may help meet the needs of members with disabilities. Teachers should clear adaptations with their priesthood and auxiliary leaders.
- Prayerfully seek out members with disabilities. Consider their needs and the needs of their family members, which may include comforting counsel; priesthood blessings; and physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual support.
- Counsel with the bishop or branch president to provide for temporal support as needed and as directed by the Holy Spirit. To the extent possible, eliminate barriers that keep members with disabilities away from Church meetings and activities.
- Remember that all can contribute to building the kingdom of God. All members of the Church need a friend, a calling, and nourishing by the word of God.
Ideas to Consider
- Church facilities should provide a reverent, peaceful place of worship for all members. Easy access, handrails, audiovisual equipment, and special parking accommodations make full participation possible.
- Leaders can gain additional knowledge of the individual needs of members with disabilities through discussion, study, prayer, fasting, and the promptings of the Spirit.
- Through faith and the power of the priesthood, priesthood holders may give blessings for the comfort and healing of members with disabilities according to the will of God.
- Faith, hope, and an understanding of the gospel help bring comfort and peace.
- Friendship and compassion help families of those with disabilities feel understood and included.
- Providing all members with information about disabilities will help them understand disabilities and their impact on individuals and families. The more others understand, the more likely they will be to include individuals with a disability.