COVID-19 DisAbility Resources and Tips

April 16, 2020

Access to Worship Actions

Inclusive on-line worship and group participation 

Formatting, preparation, and videotaping

  • Use an easy-to read font of a color that contrasts with a plain background for headings, song lyrics, scriptures etc.  
  • Narrate any written headings and messages for people without visual access. 
  • Limit flashy and busy visual effects and transitions.
  • When on camera, stand in front of a plain background and avoid windows or other forms of back-lighting.
  • Have speakers introduce themselves when they speak. If possible, use a name caption and state the name aloud.
  • Speak slowly enough to articulate and project your voice so that the automatic captioning function won’t scramble your message for people using the CC (closed captioning) feature.  
  • Review and correct mistakes before broadcasting or have someone ready to type the correct word or phrase in the Chat box when the auto-caption is off-base. 
  • Explain any on-screen actions, e.g. if you are using Zoom and people are clapping, state that. If you have children at their family screens and ask them to show something, name the child (if the space is private) and briefly describe each object. If you use images or photos, explain what is being shown.

Invitations and media communication

  • Send a Word document Order of Worship or agenda ahead of time by e-mail.
  • Make sure that invitations include multiple ways to access the platform, e.g. for Zoom include the direct phone number and the one-touch number along with the primary link.  
  • If your service is on YouTube, post a direct link – make it bold and in a larger font so people can easily locate it.  
  • If you are posting the event to or hosting in on Facebook, offer an alternative access method such as via e-mail or a DVD for members who don’t have Facebook. 
  • Remember to caption those uplifting and informational graphics, photos, and images you post to your Facebook page!

Online group interaction

  • Find ways to involve those who are accessing small groups by phone. 
  • Have speakers identify themselves by name when they speak.
  • Keep your face visible so that persons who rely on speech/lip reading will be unable to understand you.

General Resources 

Resources focusing on accommodations for people who are Deaf or have hearing loss

Resources focusing on adaptations for people who are blind or have low vision

Advocacy Actions with References

Advocacy actions you and your church can take to ensure health care access during the COVID-19 health crisis

Note - these are steps that all of us, people with and without disabilities, can take to come alongside each other.

First steps

  • Review ¶162 in the United Methodist Social Principles.[i] The introduction states “We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection.” See also #3201 in the Book of Resolutions.[ii]
  • Educate yourself. Research county and state, and federal guidelines in case of health crisis and any applicable laws that pertain to non-discrimination for health care and other services. Start with the Bulletin: Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease[iii] from the HHS Office for Civil Rights in Action. Learn the impact of ableism[iv] on triage decisions.
  • Research local resources available to assist persons with disabilities and families.

In your congregation

  • Identify a point person to direct any outreach, e.g. a parish nurse or disability ministry coordinator, or other staff or trained volunteers such as Stephen Ministers.
  • Consider assigning designated liaisons to church members who have disabilities and family members with disabilities. Reach out and listen to the stated concerns and needs before determining ways the church can come alongside these members.
  • Offer to help people prepare to access medical care and provide support if needed, e.g. know back-up caregiver options, stay available to research information.
  • Pray for calm minds and spirits in the midst of anxiety-inducing circumstances. 

In your community and beyond

  • Write to government officials, challenging discriminatory guidelines or encouraging government to develop non-discriminatory guidelines for critical care and medication access[v] and for inclusion in stimulus funding packages.  The Joint Position Statement on the Right to Equal Access to Medical Treatment[vi] is a good starting point. 
  • Support paid leave and health protection for caregivers, who are essential!
  • Remind the authorities who are setting up shelters and non-traditional hospitals of the need to ensure accessibility at the sites.
  • Publicize the Bulletin through your social media, conference mailings, letters to the editor, and other means.  Suggest that vulnerable people carry the document with them when seeking health care. 
  • Learn about measures being proposed to implement gradual return to activity in your area, and advocate to ensure that the measures do not discriminate against people with disabilities. 
For the most current resources, follow the DMC Facebook Page and refer to the web article Coronavirus Resources for Churches which will be updated frequently with new information. 

[i] The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (2016). Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, p.119.  See also Paragraph 162V, pp. 129-130.
[ii] The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (2016). Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, pp. 237-245.
[iii] HHS Office for Civil Rights in Action. “Bulletin: Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus 2019,” March 28, 2020.
[iv] See Dingle, Shannon. Sojourners. “Coronavirus crisis exposes society’s casual ableism,” March 23, 2020. 
See also Ladau, Emily. HuffPost.  “As a disabled person, I’m afraid I may not be deemed worth saving from the coronavirus,” March 25, 2020.   
See also Powell, Robin. The Appeal. “Coronavirus pandemic has brought out society’s alarming disregard for people with disabilities,” March 25, 2020. 
For a more global perspective, see Devandas, Catalina. United Nations Human Rights. “COVID-19: Who is protecting the people with disabilities?” March 17, 2020. 
[v] Ne’eman, Ari, & Albrecht, Kit. The Christian Citizen. “How the disability community can respond to COVID-19: Ensuring people with disabilities can access prescription drugs,” March 17, 2020. 
[vi] TASH. “Joint Position Statement on the Right to Equal Access to Medical Treatment.” 
See also National Catholic Partnership on Disability, “Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Medical Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic” for a their statement and the COVID-19 Medical Treatment Infographic in English and Spanish.

Outreach Resource Sheet

Resources for outreach with members with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Reach out to your members and the community

This is your chance to engage members of the community who do not typically participate in faith-based programming or worship, often because an individual in the family has difficulty sitting quietly during church functions, or because work schedules conflict.  

Challenge your participants and their families to invite friends to sign up for your updates and to watch services online.  Contact your local Arc or other organizations and providers to let them know what you have to offer. Post information in the neighborhood grocery store.  Make the information easy to find on your church website.  

Facilitate in-home faith-based activities 

Follow the lead of the disability ministry coordinators and mail, e-mail, or deliver activity packets to your members and others in the community.  Share ideas such as:
  • Create an altar or worship space.  Place a cloth or large towel over a small table and arrange a cross (make one if you don’t have one), Bible, and possibly flowers and a battery-operated candle on the table.  Add photos of people you pray for, treasures that remind you of the God’s wonderful creation.  Personalize it with faith objects that are meaningful to you. Ideally this will be set up in the room where the person or family watches online worship services.  
  • Set a daily family prayer time, involving all family members.
  • Learn short Bible verses and discuss how they apply to life.  The Easy-to-Read translation available at Bible Gateway can be helpful. 
Try to include gross and fine-motor activities, and noisy as well as quiet activities along with the typical pen and paper tasks.  Find additional ideas at the following sources: “Messy Church at Home Ideas:”

Adaptable Easter Egg Hunt for Families During COVID-19,” by Kevin Johnson, Discipleship Ministries. Designed for families with children but the activities are suitable for all of us.

Please see also the Resource sheet for “Praying Without Words.” 

Offer virtual worship and devotional messages

Help your families prepare for online worship by sending materials such as age-appropriate Bible coloring pages ahead of time.  Suggest that people who struggle to follow the whole message listen for one or two key words.

Offer a brief take-home phrase or thought for the day that summarizes the message, possibly in the form of a coloring sheet.  

Encourage active participation with flags to wave or homemade maracas or bells to shake during music and when the person hears the key word he or she is listening for.

The CRC Network offers many suggestions applicable for families with members of all ages in the article COVID-19 and Including Kids in Online Worship (Part 1) by Karen Deboer, 3/30/20.

If your disability ministry group is meeting online, consider writing a skit to illustrate the scripture message and having members perform it, and offering the skit to be included in worship.

If you do not offer video messages, consider sending links to churches that post theirs: Please see also the Resource sheet “Inclusive online worship and group participation.” 

Facilitate mutual communication and connection

  • Involve your members and volunteers in contacting other participants.  See the suggestions for “Talk-o Tuesdays"
  • Contact parents and caregivers to listen and offer prayer.  
  • Go a step further and offer to run errands or drop off a take-out meal, respecting family food sensitivities and needs. 
  • Consider arranging an online caregiver support meeting.
  • For families overwhelmed by trying to teach school-aged children with disabilities offer to research ideas and develop and provide learning materials appropriate to the child’s needs and goals. 

Plan and prepare for resumption of your ministry 

  • Use the gift of the time at home to dream of ways to make your entire congregation’s ministry more inclusive and to enhance your specific ministry.  
  • Schedule a Zoom planning retreat with your ministry volunteers.
  • Add to your online and physical library. 
  • Find training resources and arrange online training events with your volunteers.  
  • If you are creative (or know of someone in your congregation who is), make a felt board and figures to tell Bible stories in a visually appealing format.  
  • Fabricate weighted lap pads with tactile faith symbols, e.g. a rainbow, on washable pad covers.  Make rhythm instruments. 

Resources for Praying Without Words

The following prayer methods can be adapted for use with people of all ages and abilities.  God is accessible to all of us!

Information about Rev. Donna Fado Ivery

To learn more about Donna Fado Ivery and to see her paintings, check her website here. She also contributed the cover painting and wrote a chapter in Speaking Out: Gifts of Ministering Undeterred by Disabilities, a compilation of the stories of 25 members of the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities.

Breath work 

The Interfaith Network on Mental Illness offers a helpful summary of Mindfulness Resources. One section teaches the reader how to mindfully experience gratitude through the 5 senses, perhaps a good place to start. The second section offers three different ways to bring yourself into the present moment. The final section leads one through a process of gentle mindfulness that allows distractions to come and go. Click here

Praying in Color

Similar to Donna’s painting with the Spirit process, praying in color has been popularized by Sybil McBeth. She refers to the technique as a way to pray when you can’t sit still, and finds that children and adults can learn to pray this way.  Some prefer to use a template to color as they bring prayer concerns to God, and Sybil offers a number of templates for free on her website, arranged by liturgical season.  Others start by holding a person or concern in their thoughts, and allow the free form drawing process to shape the prayer. For some this serves as an alternative to prayerful journaling. Typically colored markers or pencils are used, but any art media could be an option. Click here

Praying through images 

Danny Schweers hosts a website in which he has paired his photos with written meditations, but the photos can be used contemplatively without reading his words.  You may choose to find a magazine photo that speaks to you, or use photography to open your imagination and capture an image for prayer.  Spend time prayfully viewing the image, keeping your heart and spirit open to what God might be telling you. Click here

Rev. Virgina DuPre offers yet another way to use images in her Devozine article on Praying through Images. Click here

Prayer beads

While much less well known than rosary beads, the use of prayer beads is appropriate for United Methodists who want a tactile way to stay focused and to involve their hands in prayer.  Kirsten Vincent is spreading the word and has written several books on the process.  You can make your own beads, using her template or something simpler. Click here

Embodied prayer

“We are hungry for worship that directs our whole self toward God, not just our mind, ears, or eyes. I do not believe we are looking for some nice, added extra in the form of an occasional dance or dramatic piece in worship, but a radical shift in our awareness and experience of embodiment. Kathryn Sparks, 2007

Whether we sit or stand, lift our arms or only imagine ourselves doing so, movement can be a powerful way to lift our hearts and spirits to God.  Clapping, gesturing, cupping our palms, stomping, bowing our heads, and swaying are all ways we can communicate our inmost desires and needs to our Creator. We can move to music or in silence, visibly or perceptible only to ourselves. In a group setting always provide alternatives so all may participate. Click here

Using sign language

Related to movement prayer is the practice of sign language, using signs or phrases from American Sign Language or the sign language of your area. Many individuals who have been through special education may know and use these signs. Simple ASL signs to learn include:
  • “pray” is done by pressing your palms together as one does for prayer, and moving your hands slightly back and forth
  • “God” is signed by keeping your elbow bent and raising your flat hand, held at 90 degrees to your body, up as high as your forehead
  • “love” looks like you are hugging your chest by crossing your arms, fingers are flexed
  • “thanks” starts with your flat palm near your lips, then moving your hand forward and down, keeping the palm facing up

Praying to music

Kathryn Shirey suggests that many hymns and songs, especially ones based on scripture, are forms of prayer. Sometimes music can express what our words cannot, with songs coming to mind at just the right time.  Music can be the prayer or help us focus on our prayers. Click here 

John Wesley on prayer

 “Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice.” From a plain account of Christian perfection.  John Wesley (1777) Click here

Other COVID-19 Resources

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