“Church members are encouraged to follow the Savior’s example of offering hope, understanding, and love to those who have disabilities” (General Handbook: 38.8.31). As teachers and leaders, you have the opportunity to assist all members of your ward, including those with disabilities, to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.
In this section you can learn more about including members with disabilities, along with general guidelines on frequently asked questions about ordinances performed by and for members with disabilities, accessibility, and safety guidelines.
Other sections on inclusion for members 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 allergies1 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.
Members with disabilities are welcome at Church meetings and activities and can participate and contribute in meaningful ways. Ward leaders and members are encouraged to address the needs of all who live within their boundaries, including those with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities.
Ward and stake disability specialists may be called to help identify and support the needs of members in each ward and stake (see General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 38.8.28). Where needed, leaders may organize special activities or classes to supplement regular ward activities and classes.
If necessary to meet the needs of adult members with intellectual disabilities, a ward, group of wards, stake, or group of stakes may organize a disability activity program (see General Handbook, 18.104.22.168).
A disability activity program typically serves individuals 18 years of age or older. Every effort should be made to integrate individuals under 18 into their wards and stakes. In unusual situations, leaders may determine to provide supplemental activities for youth beginning in the year they turn 12.
When multiple wards participate in a disability activity program, the stake president assigns an agent bishop to oversee it. When multiple stakes participate, the Area Presidency assigns an agent stake president to oversee it.
The agent bishop or agent stake president consults with other participating bishops or stake presidents to determine how these programs will be funded.
Activities should focus on helping the individuals with disabilities and their families feel loved and supported in their efforts to come unto Christ and stay on the covenant path. Such activities can also provide an environment for family members to connect with others with similar life experiences and enhance their support system.
Special activities or classes may be organized to help participants develop spiritually, socially, physically, and intellectually.
Objectives may include learning the gospel, interacting socially, developing friendships, practicing new skills, developing self-reliance, providing service, and growing personally in a welcoming, respectful, and age-appropriate environment. Leaders should strive to find ways for each participant to contribute to the success of activities.
Leaders determine the frequency of the activities, taking into consideration the number of participants, travel distances, and other needs.
Leaders ensure that those who desire to participate feel welcome and included as valuable contributors. However, some individuals may not be able to participate because of complex medical, physical, or behavioral needs that require intensive support or supervision. Leaders seek other ways to minister to their needs.
Leaders and participants must maintain a safe and positive environment where all feel welcomed, respected, and included.
Leaders and participants must maintain appropriate physical boundaries.
At least two responsible adults must be present at all activities. The two adults could be two men, two women, or a married couple. Enough leaders should be present to oversee the number of participants. More leaders are needed to supervise activities for members with disabilities than are needed for typical youth or adult activities. Leaders and volunteers must receive approval from their bishop. (See “Leaders” below.)
Methods must be in place to ensure the safety of participants. Attendance lists, name tags, bracelets, or lanyards may help with this process.
Participants must complete a Permission and Medical Release form before attending an activity. Parents and caregivers must inform leaders of a participant’s health issues, including allergies and diet restrictions. This information is confidential and must be used exclusively for medical emergencies and for planning safe activities. Leaders may not administer medication. Participants who have a contagious illness should temporarily refrain from participating to provide a safe environment for others.
Parents or caregivers are responsible for arranging transportation to and from activities and ensuring participants are brought to the room where the class or activity is held. Participants should not be alone in the building or parking lot. At the conclusion of the activity, participants should be released to their parent, caregiver, or whomever the parent or caregiver has arranged to care for them.
If inappropriate behavior occurs, leaders’ immediate responsibility is to protect and help the vulnerable person. Leaders must report all allegations or suspicions of abuse, not just actual incidents, to the agent bishop or stake president immediately. The agent bishop or stake president will call the help line for assistance, including legal counsel about reporting the abuse to civil authorities. For more information, visit abuse.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
When ward and stake disability specialists are not able to meet needs, high councilors, married couples, other adults, and mature youth may be called as disability activity leaders. Those who serve are called and set apart by or under the direction of the agent bishop, stake president, or Area Seventy.
Before a disability activity leader is called, the bishop or stake president ensures the person is not on a sex offender list. In the United States, the bishop, stake president, or clerk searches the person’s name at nsopw.gov. In other countries, a similar system may be used. The bishop or stake president also ensures there is no annotation on the person’s membership record for abuse (see General Handbook, 30.1.1). If leaders have questions about records with annotations or names in the sex offender registry, they should call 1-801-240-7887. Leaders outside of the United States should contact the area legal counsel at the area office.
After a disability activity leader is called, the bishop or stake president invites him or her to do the following before the first activity:
Disability activity leaders share information about members’ activities and accomplishments with leaders of home wards, where permanent records are kept and recognition can be given. As invited by the agent bishop or stake president, disability activity leaders may attend stake or ward leadership meetings.