Hinckley 2018: How to foster belonging for children and adults with disabilities

Of the approximately 526,000 people who live in the Provo-Orem area, 15,000 individuals have intellectual and developmental disabilities…and about 100,000 individuals have disabilities in general.

In his 2018 Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecture “Fostering Belonging: Inclusion, Friendship, and People with Disabilities,” Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Special Education Erik Carter invited us to see these individuals for their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses and differences. In doing this, they will truly find worth and belonging in our congregations and communities.

In his research and studies, Dr. Carter found that there is a pattern of 10 attitudes, actions, and experiences that lead to belonging.

1. To be present

In a study conducted by Dr. Carter, 87% of people with disabilities said that faith was “somewhat” or “very important” in their lives, yet only 43% of individuals with significant disabilities attend worship services at least once a month. This is not a critique of these individuals, but a critique of our church buildings and services. We must have facilities and services that serve the needs of all members of the congregation and allow them to be present. Where and how we gather say a lot about our community and how we treat the people of our community.

2. To be invited

It is one thing for an individual to be present, but quite another for them to be intentionally invited to be part of a community. And that’s the key–intention. In Dr. Carter’s study, a church leader reported that “it’s not that we deliberately exclude [individuals with disabilities]. In fact, we’re not deliberate at all. That’s the problem.”

An announcement is a good first step and it may be intentional, but it is not personal. A true invitation is personal, lets the individual know that they are personally being thought of and that their presence really matters.

3. To be welcomed

peoplewriting_hinckley 2018“[Being welcomed] is not just about what you say, but rather it is more about what is felt. The host is not the one who determines what feels welcoming. It is the guest,” shared Dr. Carter.

For the host (those who are doing the welcoming), the biggest threat to being welcoming is uncertainty. Ask about the needs of the individual and then ask about who they are. Parents of youth with disabilities say that they see a large degree of joy in their children. When you welcome that joy into your congregation, think about the joy they will give back. The charge to welcome individuals with disabilities is not only for close family, friends or a welcome committee, it is a charge for everyone.

4. To be known

When you welcome someone into your community, they should not stay a stranger for long. Getting to know people is essential, but it is how they are known that is even more important. Don’t know people by simply their name, their labels, or their strength in overcoming their disabilities; see them for who they are and their strengths. Their friendship and joy are something to be shared and appreciated.

5. To be accepted

We need to be personally involved with contacting all members of our community. This is not solely the responsibility of religious leaders, but it is again a responsibility for every member of the congregation. By embracing the person for all they are–both their attitudes of you and your attitudes of them–will be changed.

6. To be supported

Having a disability can be challenging, but even more challenging is doing it without the support of those around you. To be supportive you must show interest, ask for input, and ask good questions. Be an advocate for disability awareness efforts and an advocate for the family so that church can become the happiest and most supportive time of these individuals’ and their families’ week.

7. To be cared for

Church only lasts for a few hours but fellowship needs to continue throughout the week. Truly caring for others means that we “recognize and strive to support the spiritual, emotional, and practical needs” of members even after we leave the chapel on Sunday. This care shows that the individual matters and that they belong. Couldn’t we all be a little more caring and concerned?

8. To be befriended

Friendships are a commodity that we often take for granted. In a national study of adolescents with autism, 24% of adults with intellectual disabilities reported having no friendships or caring relationships other than those with their support staff or family members. “The relationship networks of students [and individuals] with disabilities tend to be quite different from those of students without similar labels.”

We must be intentional with our relationships and take the responsibility of being the friend that our peers and community members need.

9. To be needed

Individuals with disabilities are “indispensable members” of a congregation who bring indispensable gifts and talents that can bless everyone in a congregation. Finding ways to be ministered to by people with disabilities will truly bless individuals in our faith communities who interact and learn from individuals with disabilities.

Giving all individuals the opportunities to serve will serve us well.

10. To be loved

God sees everyone with value, worth, and love, so why should we strive to see people any differently? Loving people with disabilities and making sure that they feel belonging is not something that should be left to the experts, it is something that we should do ourselves.

Dr. Carter emphasized, “The core needs are not what’s different, but the supports that we have to provide to support people are different…It is through simple actions that all in a congregation will feel welcomed and a sense of ‘belonging.’”

Go here for the full lecture or see below.

2018 Hinckley Lecture: Fostering Belonging, Inclusion, and Friendships for People with Disabilities

New Year’s resolutions often focus on strengthening and improving our lives. They might include strengthening your cooking skills or your muscles, but how about strengthening your home and family?

In the name of Marjorie Pay Hinckley, the late wife of Gordon B. Hinckley, and in honor of her commitment to strengthening home and family, the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences will hold its fourteenth annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley lecture on February 8th, 2018. The topic for this year’s lecture is Fostering Belonging: Inclusion, MarjorieHinckleyFriendship, and People with  Disabilities” presented by Dr. Erik Carter of Vanderbilt University. In the past years, distinguished scholars have come to BYU to address pertinent issues such as family instability and complexity, social media, and social aggression, and factors that put children and the American future at risk.  

This year’s topic: Inclusions, friendships, and people with disabilities

Disabilities have always been a present aspect of individuals and society but have only recently received the attention and focus they need and deserve. Whether they be mental, physical, or learning disabilities, these impairments often present challenges to individuals and families who deserve the opportunities to succeed.

In his own experience and research Dr. Carter has found that educational, community and religious organizations all play powerful roles in providing opportunities that  help people with disabilities find valued roles, employment, and relationships with their local community members and peers. These relationships themselves go on to unify and strengthen the community as a whole.

During his lecture, Carter will focus on ten aspects of belonging and how attitudes and actions toward people with disabilities can create more meaningful and lasting inclusion in the community.

BYU research and experience

BYU professors have collaborated among themselves and with other scholars to form groups that research and educate on disabilities. One of these groups is Autism Connect which helps families and individuals with autism better understand the disorder and available resources through research. In addition, BYU also puts on the annual Autism Translational Research Workshop to educate on and share best practices in autism.

While research is fundamental to this field, the next step is making sure that people with disabilities and those associated with these individuals are able to receive the access and support for opportunities such as education, jobs, community, and peer relationships. In a recent article by BYU Psychology and Neuroscience professor Mikle South and Associate Clinical Professor Jonathan Cox, BYU’s own environment for supporting individuals with disabilities and autism was observed and critiqued. In order to succeed in post-secondary education, individuals with disabilities may need transitionary programs, “safe spaces” with minimal sensory stimulation where they can take tests, and have support groups or student mentors.

community

A Community of Inclusion

Success in education and in the community is something that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve. Just like no one should be excluded from receiving an education or job, no one should feel excluded in their community. It is detrimental that we look to establish friendships and relationships with people who need our support.

Learn how to foster belonging within your community through inclusion and friendship with people with disabilities by attending the fourteenth annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture on February 8th, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hinckley Assembly Hall. Admission is free and the event is open to the public. Individuals from the BYU community, families, community leaders, and educators will greatly benefit from Dr. Carter’s presentation.