Basic Needs of Persons With Disabilities

The church can recognize needs of persons with disabilities* and hold them up to the light in all relationships, teaching and planning.

Chronic illness, cancer, cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment – each person  with a disability*  has different  needs and comfort zones, but all have similar basic personhood needs.

Use this student basic needs sheet as a reference work with leadership classes or as a tool for coaching new leaders in various areas.  It also makes a good check sheet for evaluation with individual students or for a specific group. For example: How are we helping __________ grow spiritually?  How can we help ___________better understand our boundaries? Does our corporate worship suggest that we are prepared for ______________?


To have persons working with them who model love of Christ and who evidence spirituality in their lives. Our students learn intuitively! Call this sacramental nearness, being with the trusted person or persons who relate, love and understand.**

To feel loved and respected and talented. Everyone has gifts and talents, and we must find out what they are.

♥  To feel that we are prepared for them. Parents also need reassurance that we are prepared for their  child of any age. Persons in the congregation need to feel that the church is prepared with ramps and other amenities for mobility access or signage for a worship service or any other need they have expressed.

♥  To be encouraged. It catches on. When leaders are encouragers, students learn to be encouragers. Some students have a natural gift of encouraging others, and they teach us.

To move. Not only MUST their bodies move  (syndromes plus teenage hormones) but their minds must be challenged.  Plan body movement into the agenda. Ability to move varies with each student, so remember that head nodding or finger tapping may be all that is possible.

To learn. Learning is change. While learning tasks include Biblical knowledge, liturgical practices or rituals such as prayers, creeds, psalm, it also includes relating to other students, adapting to a group or new room location, participating in behavioral socialization and finding personal affirmation in relation to God and others. Learning also includes an understanding that it is okay to learn the way each one specifically CAN learn. That’s discovery!

♥  To grow spiritually. Affirm any spiritual moment or insight, naming or praying it when possible. Teaching a child to name an awesome moment teaches a recognition of God in his life. Discovery will be different for each person, but group spiritual affirmation is an awesome discovery to be celebrated. Our goal is to bring about a sense of the sacred.

♥  To have comfortable boundaries that are consistently enforced. A group or class needs its own boundaries, even if it is just a picnic or fishing party. Boundaries make students and leaders more comfortable.

♥  To have opportunity for socialization and integration into the life of the church and community.   This does not happen by accident. Leaders can help students with special needs read corporate scripture reading, usher, help in the church office, participate in congregational service projects. Some students feel the need to have confirmation or baptism and join the church, a step that punctuates integration. Often special needs parents join the church because of their child’s faith step. Socialization and integration is a congregational attitude that invites persons with special needs to serve, lead, pledge money, and share needs.

To be considered as individuals, with each person having different abilities, needs and impairments. It’s okay to be who they are, and it is the leader’s job to find out who they are.

♥  To grow in self esteem through the opportunity for leadership and appreciation and respect of the group and of leaders.

♥  Add your observations of needs with individuals or your group:

* See glossary for definition of terms.

** Sacramental nearness is discussed by William L. Gillum in Awakening Spiritual Dimensions, Prayer Services with Persons with Severe Disabilities.