The United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries

Persons with Disabilities Speak Out:
An Interview with Self-Advocates

This is a transcript of an interview with self-advocates who were members of our predecessor, the UM National Task Force on Developmental Disabilities. We believe that it is an important part of our heritage as a Task Force. It is also a reminder that one distinction of the Task force is that it has at least one self-advocate in its membership, and several members who live with disabilities.

Hello! We are self advocates serving on the United Methodist Church National Task Force on Developmental Disabilities. Thank you for wanting to learn more about us! We want to help everyone realize that people with developmental disabilities have the same needs and potentials as other church members. We all have something good contribute and we want to encourage our churches to include us and use our skills to better the church as a whole.

Living with a developmental disability is hard sometimes because people don't understand what developmental disability is and they treat us differently. People notice our disability, and miss our many abilities! Developmental disability used to be called mental retardation. We don't like that. It has been used to hurt our feelings.

Jay: "When I was called that, it made me feel like an outcast, like I didn't belong."

Darcel: "It made me feel small, like I couldn't do anything."

John: "I hate it. It was used like a bad name."

When people think of us as disabled, they sometimes think we cannot learn at all. Those people have teased us and ridiculed us because they didn't know how much we could accomplish. Having our disability means that sometimes we need help with bigger decisions or understanding complicated words or papers. Sometimes we need things explained differently. It helps when simpler words are used. Some of us live at home with our family, some of us live in group homes and some of us live in our own apartments. We have jobs, earn our paychecks, take buses, ride in cabs and even drive our own cars. We can do a lot.

It is important that people learn more about our disability. They will find out how they can better help us, and more importantly, they will realize that we can be helpful to them! Please take the time to read our document titled "A Model of Inclusion". It will tell you what we do in our, churches.

We hope that you will help us make the church a place where everyone feels welcomed and wanted. We are all important in the eye of God!

A Model of Inclusion

The United Methodist National Task Force on Developmental Disabilities offers the following examples of how people with developmental disabilities are able to be significant contributing members of their local churches. The self advocates on our task force assisted in preparing this information. People and churches are all different. We challenge you to find out what needs are among your own congregation.

First, a few questions for the self advocates:

Why do you go to church?

Darcel: I go to say hello, give hugs, sing and pray. It gives me a good feeling to be in God's church. I feel like I did something for God.

John: I like it! I like everything about it!

Jay: I enjoy singing and praying and I can open up my feelings to God.

John: Same here! I can open up my feelings to God too!

Tim: I enjoy the people at church and the responsibilities that I have at church.

Jamie: Praying and singing. I go with my Mom. Church is on Sunday. There is no work on Sunday or Saturday. On Sunday there is church. I like church

Duane attends church regularly with his family. People in his church know him and he appears to be calm and at peace when he is at his church.

What gifts do you have to offer the church?

Jamie: Be nice to people. Help and be friends.

John: I get things ready for Sunday School. I put the story papers on and pass out the song sheets. I get the supplies out and refreshments out.

Tim: I am an Usher at my church. I pass out the attendance pads, write down the numbers that the other ushers give me and put the information on the secretary's desk for the bulletin. I bring the elements in for communion. If there are a lot of people, I help set up more chairs. I have participated in the C.R.O.P. Walk for 24 years. I like to help others. It's important to do things to benefit the community.

Duane offers the church the opportunity to build community with someone who is unable to hear or speak, but understands the feeling of belonging, quickly responding to the offer a handshake in friendship.

Darcel: I sing in the choir and I'm on the Pastor/Parish Relations Committee.

Jay: I acolyte. I go up and get the offering plates from the altar and give them to the ushers to pass out. I play in the Bell Choir.

What experiences at church have made you feel like you belonged?

Tim: When we greet one another. I like it when people ask me to help them do things.

Darcel: When I sing in the choir, it makes me feel important because I feel like I am another voice in the choir ... like everyone else. When I have a Pastor/Parish Relations Committee meeting, and meet the new Pastor for the first time, I feel good. I feel like I'm making a difference on that committee.

John: I like everything. People say hello to me.

Jamie: Parties at church. Eating dinner. I help with dishes. Friends are at church. Praying to God. Praying at church.

Jay: When I read the bible stories in class. When we sing. When we greet everybody. Our church is a close knit family.

Duane's peers suggest that Duane would feel a sense of belonging from church members approaching him and offering him their hand in a greeting. Duane shares God's presence within a glance or a smile.

What experiences in the church made you feel like you didn't belong?

Darcel: They put me in a special class at church when I wanted to go in to the worship service. That made me feel dumb. They should have asked me what I wanted to do.

Jay: They shouldn't make decisions for us. We should be given choices and decide for ourselves.

Jamie is hearing impaired and likes to sing. Sometimes she sings loudly because she cannot accurately hear her own volume. If others around her are singing loudly, she thinks she should too! It is okay to remind her to sing more quietly, but she feels bad when people stare at her or give her funny looks when she sings off key. Jamie wants to participate just like everyone else.

What should the church be like for people with developmental disabilities?

John: We should be treated like everyone else. We are all God's creation. We all have something good to give

Tim: A place where we can come together and all be equal.