“Activities for Members with Disabilities,” Disability Services: Leaders (2020)
“Activities for Members with Disabilities,” Disability Services: Leaders
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, 188.8.131.52).
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:
Read “Protecting Members and Reporting Abuse” at abuse.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Complete the children and youth protection training at ProtectingChildren.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
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.