Characteristics of faith communities inclusive of people with learning disabilities identified in US survey


The issue of faith and participation in faith communities for people with learning disabilities is not widely explored in the literature. In 2004, the foundation for people with learning disabilities published the report of a two-year action research project to develop and describe creative ideas for meeting people’s religious needs  and produced a good practice guide for services on meeting people’s religious needs

The purpose of this study in the United States was to look at what characteristics of faith communities might be related to greater inclusion.

The researchers asked 160 respondents to respond anonymously to a survey about inclusion of people with learning disabilities in their faith community.

They grouped questions together to attempt to identify the degree to which faith communities welcome and include people with disabilities; what contribution members of the congregations of those communities might make to that inclusion, what roles and contributions the individuals with disabilities themselves made to the life of the faith community and whether their were any issues of physical accessibility.

They found from the responses that those faith communities that were more inclusive had a number of characteristics. The faith leaders themselves were committed to inclusion and used a range of educational resources to address disability-related issues

They found the leaders in those communities portrayed people with disabilities positively in religious teachings, had strong ties to disability organisations; and a strong orientation towards promoting social justice.

The authors suggest these five characteristics could form the basis of a framework for promoting inclusion of people with disabilities in all faith communities.

Characteristics of Inclusive Faith Communities: A Preliminary Survey of Inclusive Practices in the United States, Griffin, M et al., in  Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 25: 383–391.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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