The Handicapped: How to Help Them, How They Help Us


Item: One ward Relief Society in Salt Lake meets, sings, teaches, and serves in silence. The absorbed faces and the responsive smiles are international, but they communicate by the deft and graceful movements of signing that the deaf use.

Item: A Church coordinating committee, the Coordinating Council for the Handicapped, meets monthly to review programs and materials that serve the handicapped. The committee has representatives from the highest levels of the Relief Society, Sunday School, Primary, Young Women, Aaronic Priesthood, Melchizedek Priesthood, Seminaries and Institutes, Instructional Development, and Personal Welfare Services Department.

Item: Many of the newer manuals carry instructions to teachers on their responsibilities in meeting the needs of the physically or mentally handicapped.

Item: Special Primary organizations for mentally handicapped children thrive in many areas from Canada to Australia.

Item: A bishop, prayerfully seeking inspiration on calling the deacon’s quorum president, returns again and again to the name of a boy who is deaf. Responding to those urgent whisperings, the bishop calls him, and the quorum, as well as the boy, experience an exciting year of growth and brotherhood.

Item: Selected missionaries in California learn the discussions in sign language and teach them to deaf investigators.

Item: Chapels are being constructed with ramps for wheelchairs and earphone plug-ins for those with hearing impairments.

In other words, the Church is signaling its care for its handicapped members through new programs and, through sensitive leaders, is signaling its need for the services of those same members. Bishop Victor L. Brown, reporting in Welfare Conference in October, revealed that the average ward has one blind child, four children with hearing problems, nine with speech difficulties, two with learning disabilities, two who are physically disabled, and five who are retarded. “Considering the adults who have comparable problems,” he added, “the numbers are even higher.”

A letter from a father reveals, sorrowfully, what can happen to such children if ward members are not sensitive to their needs and skills. “I am,” he writes, “the father of a nineteen-year-old girl who suffered brain damage at birth. She can read and write and do many other things, for which we are grateful. However, we have watched her grow up without the friendship she so badly needs. Not one girl her age in our ward has recognized her needs.

“It is a heartbreaking thing for parents to watch the needless suffering and frustration of a child who can’t understand why no one will associate with her.”

The poignant plea in this letter also clearly indicates the solution: to recognize and meet the needs of this handicapped girl. That recognition begins with realizing that handicapped members of the Church are much more similar to normal members than they are different. A blind person has more in common with a sighted person than he does with a deaf person. Filling the needs of a child with learning disabilities is different from filling the needs of a paraplegic.

Consequently, a broad classification of “the handicapped” is really only for convenience. Each handicap has its own limitations and brings its own talents; and each “handicapped” person should be dealt with in the same way that “normal” people are when they have needs that must be met.

The same program applies for all: (1) Each person, handicapped or not, has primary stewardship for himself and should assume as much responsibility for himself as possible. (2) When needs surpass his own resources, he should turn to his immediate family, then his extended family. (3) Then the home and visiting teachers, quorum leaders, and ward resources should be summoned into play. (4) Last, the resources of the stake, region, and even area should be mobilized.

Consequently, every person in a ward that has a handicapped member is involved in the Church program for the handicapped. “The guiding principle,” says Dr. Victor Brown, Jr., director of Personal Welfare Services, “is to help them participate in the mainstream of Church activity.”

He tells of one sister, age thirty-five, who has cerebral palsy. She has a master’s degree, has taught herself to drive, and has received some awards for special work, but she has never been to a Church dance, roadshow, or banquet. “People say, ‘Create a program to fellowship her and meet her needs,’” says Brother Brown. “Now, that’s not necessary. She just needs to be part of the Church. What we really want to do is to have each bishop and each quorum leader respond to the needs of the handicapped in his jurisdiction. Make sure that they get vocational training and have the full gospel experience, socially and doctrinally.”

What is the Church doing to help leaders include the handicapped?

1. The Coordinating Council for the Handicapped acts as a sounding board to reflect the needs felt in the field and to suggest appropriate responses to auxiliaries and committees that will not duplicate effort or waste energies. The committee is one help to priesthood leaders who deal with special needs, but it’s a resource, not the operating arm.

2. LDS Social Services, under Personal Welfare Services, has sixteen agencies run by trained and licensed employees who can act as consultants to priesthood leaders and provide professional assistance to the handicapped—vocational counseling, personal counseling, or group therapy, for instance.

3. Under the Production-Distribution division of Welfare Services, Deseret Industries run sheltered workshops for handicapped workers. Here they sort and repair clothing and household items that have been donated; they also manufacture other items, a process that offers the pride of an earned income, close association with other workers, the chance to serve others, vocational training, and progress toward self-sufficiency.

4. The 1976–77 Aaronic Priesthood study courses for teachers and priests stress that all young men will receive preparatory training for full-time missions when at all possible, and study guide sections for bishoprics and quorum advisers provide aid for working with handicapped quorum members.

5. The Sunday School is stressing fellowshipping and flexibility so that the participation of the handicapped will be “beneficial and pleasant.”

6. The Young Women has selected the motto of “service to one another” and uses four steps to reach all its members: identify them, determine their needs, involve them, and be their friends.

7. The Relief Society mobilizes its visiting teachers to contact handicapped members and report their unmet needs to the Relief Society president, who works with the bishop on planning. Some of those needs are met through compassionate service projects.

All of these programs are designed to involve the handicapped in the full life of the ward. But sometimes special efforts are needed. Sometimes involvement in the regular programs just doesn’t meet those needs. In such cases, extra measures are available. If there are sufficient people to warrant them, and if the families and priesthood leaders involved concur, special education groups can be set up, like the primaries for mentally retarded children or like the deaf wards that have been organized in a few locations. A single class might be successful in areas that lack sufficient people to form a complete unit.

With the approval of the bishop, home teachers, and head of family, Sunday School can be held for the homebound as the leaders determine best—every week, once a month, etc.

Seminaries and Institutes produces special curricula for deaf, mentally handicapped, blind, physically handicapped, slow learning, incarcerated, and/or homebound students; special seminary classes have already been organized for more than 2,000 students and can be organized through local seminary coordinators and directors.

Talking books and cassettes for the blind include books like A Marvelous Work and a Wonder and periodicals like the New Messenger Talking Book, a bimonthly magazine containing talks by General Authorities, interviews, and Tabernacle Choir music. Furthermore, the Church has recorded the Family Home Evening Manual and the lessons for the Gospel Doctrine, Relief Society, and Melchizedek Priesthood courses.

Yet this exciting range of programs and aids available for the handicapped should not give the impression that the handicapped are primarily recipients of aid. The Church needs their contributions. No ward, class, or family should bypass the skills and abilities of their “handicapped” members. The story of H. Smith Shumway, bishop of Cheyenne First Ward, is representative of much valuable service being rendered throughout the Church.

Father of eight, he was blinded at age twenty-three but does not find that blindness limits his effectiveness. “We live just across the street from the chapel,” he comments, “so it’s no problem getting to Church. People are very good about meeting me there for interviews, and my counselors drive me when I really must go to someone’s home.”

True, he can’t join in volleyball with the young people, “but I can ride horses with them and engage in almost all nonathletic activities.” He adds, “I think that they confide in me more readily too, because I can’t see them.”

He has memorized the forms and interview questions and, after he is satisfied about the candidate’s worthiness, has him fill out the form. The only thing he adds is his signature.

A bishop for two years, he has served as counselor in two bishoprics and three times as stake high councilor. His most rewarding assignment until now, he says, was serving as a stake missionary, since he felt he was blessed with the ability to readily memorize not only the discussions but numerous scriptures. This, as well as his ability to recognize ward members by voice and handshake, he notes, “are some of the many compensations that the Lord gives with the handicap.”

Nor does he feel that blindness has handicapped him as a father. “One of my girls was seven years old before she realized that I was blind. She thought I held her hand more than other daddies held their daughters’ hands because I loved her more.”

His advice to handicapped youth is sound, as his own life in Church service and a career with the state department of education has proved: “Be self-reliant, get a good education, and prepare for service to others. With each handicap there comes a compensating strength. Discover it. Use it.”

For More Information On …

Materials for the blind: Publications for the Blind, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

Seminary and Institute materials: your local seminary coordinator or institute director has the catalog of curriculum materials and information on establishing special classes.

Primary organizations for handicapped children: Primary Association, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

General information: Terry Moyer, director of Handicapped Services, Personal Welfare Services, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.

[photos] Photography by Eldon Linschoten, Longin Lonczyna, and Harry V. Brooks