Including Everyone: How to incorporate inclusive language for families with special needs
Take the time to do your research. You don’t need to be an expert on special needs to create inclusive communication. But you can find new ways to make everyone feel welcome. For instance, many people with special needs prefer “person-first” language—rather than referring to someone as “an autistic child,” you can refer to them as “a child with autism.” These small details go a long way in showing people of all abilities that your church recognizes that their special need does not define their entire persona.
Make all families with special needs aware of your resources. Do you have a quiet place for people to go during the Sunday service if they need a break from noise? Where are your most wheelchair-friendly entrances? Making this kind of information readily available shows your church family that you put a priority on making sure everyone has the opportunity to be part of the service to the best of their ability.
Ask questions! If you are wondering what the best way is to communicate with families with special needs in your church, go right to the source and ask them for their thoughts. They may prefer a quick text message for necessary information since they have limited time between appointments. Or they might ask you to mail the information they need so they can stick it on the fridge and remember the event details. Find out what works best, and see how you can incorporate it into your communications.
Worry about every little word you write or say. Many common phrases, such as “I’m going to run to the store,” may make someone cringe if they say it to someone who uses a wheelchair or crutches for mobility. However, you can’t edit out every single potentially exclusive phrase. Don’t over-worry about these kinds of words; instead, focus on creating a positive and encouraging environment.
Assume you know or understand a particular special need! Parents of children with special needs will be the first to tell you that, even with the same diagnosis, the special needs of children can differ vastly from person to person—just like the needs of all children. Don’t assume that you are promoting inclusivity for all needs just because you know you met the need of one person.
Place the burden of communication with the person with special needs. Those with special needs have a lot in common with people who don’t have special needs. For example, they want to be included and considered. It may take some extra effort for you to find ways to promote inclusivity in your communication. The message you send must be that inclusivity is a goal you want to meet, not a burden to shoulder. You wouldn’t tell everyone in your church with brown hair that it was just too much work to communicate with them—that would be silly. Likewise, don’t give people with special needs the impression that they are responsible for the extra work that may go into your revamped communication style.
Inclusivity in communication is a great way to ensure that people with special needs know they are both considered and desired as part of your church family. Whether you are changing your announcements to reflect person-first language or making the accessible parking sign more visible, these small moments add up to significant changes for everyone in the special needs community.