Ideas for Retaining Physically Challenged Members of Meeting

Pastoral Care Support

Assume that during your own life, you will almost certainly experience a time of physical impairment or limitation: severe back pain, joint replacement or other surgery, broken bones, a long debilitating illness, injuries from an accident.  This assumption becomes even more likely as increases in longevity advance with each passing decade.

How can Meeting help each of us during our times of physical limitation continue to participate in worship and other meeting functions?

Here is a partial list for consideration and action:

  1. If you notice a member’s continued absence, call and offer to help keep the member-meeting tie strong.  Ask this Friend what is needed to help them attend worship and other meeting events;
  2. Most people, who cannot physically go to meeting on First Day, may still wish to participate in worship.  The meeting could arrange to hold worship at the home of a person who cannot make it to the meeting house;
  3. Meeting could compile and distribute a list of names of people willing to be telephone, texted or emailed, on short notice to attend a meeting for worship at the home of a housebound person.  The list could be updated in the meeting directory and posted on the meeting’s webpage;
  4. The worship room could be made more accessible if three or four cushioned, high-backed armchairs were placed throughout the room for those unable to sit on hard wooden benches, (even those with horse-hair pads may not offer the comfort of an upholstered chair);
  5. Cushioned chairs should be placed conspicuously throughout the worship room and invitation notices for Friends to use them should be regularly put in the meeting newsletter, posted on the meeting bulletin board and on the meeting website;
  6. Arrange the worship room benches to enable wheelchair accessibility which is easy to navigate and central to the space;
  7. Avoid placing persons in wheelchairs in aisles, use shorter benches  with longer ones to create nooks within rows for wheelchairs;
  8. Remember that feeling that one is within the meeting space is so much better than feeling that one is sticking out;
  9. Homebound persons may still wish to participate on committees or in groups.  Use creative accommodation, such as speaker-phones or Skype, to include the person.  Or, hold the meeting at the residence of the homebound person.
  10. Be sensitive to energy ebbs and flows and the duration of interactions when inviting a physically disabled or homebound person to participate in a committee meeting or other meeting function;
  11. If a member is obviously in physical discomfort at meeting, do ask (discretely) if there are any ways meeting can be made more comfortable for the person that day or generally;
  12. Publish a short, occasional questionnaire in the monthly newsletter or create an online Survey Monkey questionnaire asking respondents what they see as the physical accessibility issues with the meeting house
  13. As part of the survey, solicit ideas from meeting members, attenders and visitors for making the meeting more welcoming and accessible and increasing the attendance and active participation by Friends with physical challenges.
  14. Hold occasional meeting forums or discussions to explore issues of accessibility, disability and infirmities and their challenges for the life of the meeting.

These ideas were originally offered by Judy Kruger of Haddonfield FM in 1999.  They have been update to conform with current practices.