Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is our greatest example of helping others feel included in the gospel and reaching out to the “one.” Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin explained:
“He was surrounded by multitudes and spoke to thousands, yet He always had concern for the one. ‘For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost’ (Matthew 18:11), He said. ‘What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?’ (Luke 15:4).
“This instruction applies to all who follow Him. We are commanded to seek out those who are lost. We are to be our brother’s keeper. We cannot neglect this commission given by our Savior. We must be concerned for the one” (“Concern for the One,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 18).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “As members of the Church, we are all on this journey. Our age and experience will always be varied, as will our languages, cultures, and degrees of gospel understanding. But whatever your circumstances, we welcome you. As the Apostle Paul said, ‘Ye are . . . [now] fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19), and that means we are in this together” (“What I Wish Every New Member Knew,” Ensign, Oct. 2006, 10).
We all have the responsibility to welcome and include everyone, including those with disabilities. There are many ways you can reach out to those in your congregation who have a disability or who are caregivers of a loved one with a disability. Sometimes all it takes is a small, genuine gesture to help someone feel like he or she is known, loved, and a part of the ward family. Here are a few suggestions of small things that, when done with genuine love and sincerity, can go a long way to help someone with a disability feel included:
Church leaders have a sacred responsibility to care for every member of their flock and to reach out to “the one.” This includes reaching out to members with disabilities and their caregivers. When the motivation behind learning about others comes from a place of love and compassion, wonderful things can occur. Church leaders and teachers should keep the following in mind as they work with those who have disabilities and strive to increase awareness and understanding of disabilities:
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained: “We may not be able to alter the journey, but we can make sure no one walks it alone. Surely that is what it means to bear one another’s burdens” (“Bearing One Another’s Burdens,” Ensign, June 2018, 27).
One of the best ways to minister and help members with disabilities and their families and other caregivers is by being a friend. Often these individuals and families carry great physical, financial, and emotional burdens. Having a friend or someone they can rely on in the ward may be very important in helping them remain active in the Church despite the overwhelming challenges they face. When we become a friend, we can also help bear one another’s burdens (see Mosiah 18:8–9).
The Lord can help you know what to do as you get to know the members to whom you minister, become familiar with their needs, and turn to the scriptures and pray. Remember that members with a disability and their families are generally the best resource on their disability. They know about the strengths and challenges that come with a specific disability and can often help you identify where help is needed.
A bishopric or stake presidency may call a ward or stake disability specialist to help individuals and families who have disabilities or who are caregivers of those with disabilities (see General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 22.214.171.124). The role of a disability specialist is to help facilitate increased participation and inclusion of Church members with disabilities; however, the responsibility to care for others is the responsibility of everyone (see Mosiah 18:8–9).
Disability Activity Leaders (see General Handbook, 126.96.36.199)
Adult members may be called as disability activity leaders. These leaders plan and carry out the disability activity program. They consult with ward and stake disability specialists (see General Handbook, 188.8.131.52) to invite members with disabilities to participate. They counsel together about how to meet those members’ needs.
Disability activity leaders are called and set apart under the direction of the agent bishop or agent stake president. A stake president may also assign a high councilor to serve as a disability activity leader.
Leaders serving those of any age with disabilities complete the training at ProtectingChildren.ChurchofJesusChrist.org. For additional safety requirements for leaders, see disability.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
When invited, disability activity leaders may attend stake or ward leadership meetings.
Guidelines for disability activity programs. Disability activity programs are organized to help participants develop spiritually, socially, physically, and intellectually (see Luke 2:52). Leaders determine the frequency of activities. They consider the number of participants, travel distances, and other circumstances.
“Everything the Savior did throughout His earthly ministry was motivated by love—His love for His Father and His love for all of us. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, we can be filled with this same love as we strive to be true followers of Christ (see John 13:34–35; Moroni 7:48; 8:26). With Christlike love in our hearts, we will seek every possible way to help others learn of Christ and come unto Him. Love will be the reason and motivation for our teaching” (Teaching in the Savior’s Way , 6).
Individuals with disabilities should be given the opportunity to learn, teach, and serve to the best of their abilities. As a teacher, it is important that you establish an atmosphere of love and inclusion. Seek to understand those you teach and their individual needs. President M. Russell Ballard counseled: “May I urge each member of the Church, when you are serving as a teacher, to remember that every human soul is precious to our Father in Heaven, for we are all his children. God’s children are entitled to be taught the truths of the gospel in clear and understandable terms so that the Spirit can confirm the truths of the gospel to them.”
Individuals with disabilities may require accommodations in the classroom to help them learn and feel included. Talk with the individuals about accommodations they may need to fully participate in gospel learning. When teaching children or youth, you may also want to counsel with their parent, guardian, or caregiver about any accommodations they may need. By making simple adaptations to the classroom, you can promote learning for all. Some examples of simple accommodations include the following:
Teaching Strategies for Children with Disabilities
Food allergies and reactions to food can have a significant effect on a person’s physical and emotional health and ability to participate in Church meetings and activities.
A food allergy is a condition in which exposure to a specific food causes the body to mistakenly treat the food as a harmful substance. This reaction may trigger anaphylaxis, a reaction that can result in death. Globally, 240 million to 550 million people may suffer from allergies to some foods, but the most common allergies are to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, wheat, and soy.
At church, adults, youth, and children are often exposed to food allergens in these ways:
Look for the following symptoms, which could be mild or severe:
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, severe, and potentially fatal allergic reaction. Symptoms can occur within minutes or hours after exposure or ingestion. Without early administration of emergency medication called epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) along with emergency care, the result can be fatal. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
Epinephrine is the most commonly used medication to treat severe reactions and anaphylaxis. It is available by prescription as a self-injectable device (such as EpiPen, Auvi-Q, or Adrenaclick). Most individuals with food allergies carry one of these devices with them. If members have a food allergy, leaders and teachers should discuss possible treatment with them or their parents in anticipation of an allergic reaction.
If someone is experiencing anaphylaxis:
If symptoms do not improve or if symptoms return, more doses of epinephrine can be given about five minutes after the previous dose. Transport the person to an emergency facility, and stay there at least four hours, because symptoms may return. Do not depend on antihistamines. They will help only with skin issues and may cover any anaphylaxis reactions, causing a delay in the administration of epinephrine and possible irreversible effects, including death. If you are unsure what to do, give the person epinephrine and call 911. If someone with a food allergy feels ill, never leave him or her alone.
Following the guidelines below will help keep those with food allergies safe in a church setting:
Leaders and teachers should be sensitive to the physical and emotional impact food allergies have on an individual and should develop ways to safely include people in all activities and worship—including partaking of the sacrament. The guidelines below may help:
For more information on food allergies, anaphylaxis, and how to recognize and respond to allergic reactions, see the following resources:
Printable Posters and Signs
What is an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal or comfort pet is specifically chosen as a companion to an individual with a psychological or emotional disability. A variety of animals can be emotional support animals, including current pets. Such animals are not trained to perform tasks but are distinguished by the close emotional and supportive bond between the animal and the owner.
What is a service dog?
A service dog is a trained animal that performs tasks directly related to the disability of the owner. The dog’s preparation and training typically take 18 to 24 months. A service dog may be considered necessary medical equipment and may be allowed to accompany the owner with a disability to many places where emotional support animals or pets are not permitted. The owner does not need to display documentation stating that the dog is a certified service dog; however, in determining whether a dog is a service dog, Church leaders or event hosts may ask questions such as “Is the service dog required because of a disability?” or “What work or task has the service dog been trained to perform?” The owner should be able to communicate the essential tasks the service dog provides beyond companionship, protection, or comfort.
Are service animals or other domestic animals allowed inside Church facilities?
Bishops and stake presidents may determine whether to allow individuals with disabilities to use trained service dogs in meetinghouses. Other types of animals, including emotional support animals (comfort pets), are generally not permitted in meetinghouses or at Church-sponsored events, except as specifically required by law. (In general in the United States, the Church is under no legal obligation to admit service dogs or emotional support animals to houses of worship.) Bishops and stake presidents make local decisions, taking into account the needs of individuals with disabilities and the needs of others in the congregation.
Service dogs and emotional support animals are not allowed in temples. Patrons with special needs are encouraged to attend the temple with family members or friends who can assist them as needed. Temple workers are also available to assist members while at the temple. Priesthood leaders may contact the Temple Department with questions.
What are the responsibilities of owners of service animals while on Church property?
Owners of permitted service animals are responsible for any damage to persons or property caused by their animals. They are responsible for properly disposing of the service animal’s waste. In addition, while on Church property, service animals must be attended and restrained at all times. This means that the service animal must be in the immediate vicinity of its owner (within six feet), either on a leash, in a cage, or voice-controlled. To be considered attended, the animal may not be left fastened to a stationary object.
As you minister to the needs of others, you can help them experience joy and fulfillment. You can also help them understand that “each [of us] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Each of us has been given unique gifts that can be used to bless and serve those around us. We are all needed in the Church of Jesus Christ.
To reach the divine destiny our Heavenly Parents desire for us, we all need the opportunity to learn and live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Regardless of impairments, all of God’s children merit the opportunity to make covenants and help build the kingdom of God on earth.
As you work with members with disabilities who face life challenges, prayerfully consider these truths:
Everyone has something to contribute. It is our blessing and responsibility to follow the example of Jesus Christ and seek out the one.
Help others to belong. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:25–27 about the body of Christ:
“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
“And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
We are not complete without each member. The eye cannot contribute in the same way the hand is able to, nor can the foot do the work that the ears can do. We are better when we learn how to appreciate the strengths we all bring to the Church. We become more like Christ as we care for one another.
What can we do to help others feel loved and included in the full body of Christ in our own wards and stakes? In 3 Nephi 22:13 we read, “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.” That scripture could easily have read, “Thy children shall be taught of the Lord.” It is instructive that God chose to include the word all. We must recognize that all of God’s children merit the opportunity to learn and live the gospel. Every person has something to contribute to the Church of Jesus Christ.
Ask genuine, loving questions. We help others more fully live the gospel when we do our best to create a safe space for them physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Often this can be done by reaching out to them one by one and asking things such as “What would you like me to know?” or “What are some things we can do to help church be a place where you or your child can be successful?” Often the act of individually reaching out to invite and ask sincere, loving questions can be the first step in helping others feel more a part of their faith.
Provide a good example. Others often look to their parents and Church leaders to determine how they will respond to a situation. How can you reflect love, patience, and charity as you set an example for others to follow?
Keep in mind that we are so much more alike than we are different from one another. In the Church, we can do an incredible job of providing some of the things people need most that don’t even require any sort of training—things like being a friend. The greatest resource will always be individuals working together to find solutions as members with disabilities advocate for their needs and others lovingly listen and provide help.
Resources are available for the following topics: