Nearly six in ten churchgoers have an experience of or connection with disability
In the 2016 NCLS we asked churchgoers about their personal experience or connection with disability. Nearly six in 10 attenders indicated that they had an experience of, or connection with, disability.
Some 14% of churchgoers reported having a disability themselves. Another 23% said they had a close family member with a disability.
As well, around a quarter of churchgoers said they experienced a health problem that affects their involvement in church life.
When asked about their personal experience of disability, some 14%, or one in seven Australian churchgoers reported having a disability themselves. Of this, 12% described their disability as mild, and 3% as severe or profound. Personally having a disability, severe or mild, increased with age amongst churchgoers.
In regard to social connections to someone else with a disability, such as a family member, friend or colleague, our research suggests fairly substantial levels of connection.
Nearly a quarter of church attenders (23%) said that they had a close family member with a disability. Having a close family member with a disability was at its highest among attenders aged 50-69 years old, at 28%.
Social and workplace relationships were also evident, with 15% of respondents reported having a friend with a disability and 21% having a work or other connection with someone who was disabled.
With nearly six in 10 church attenders (59%) having an experience of, or connection with disability, this suggests a broad awareness of disability exists within congregations.
We compared attenders with and without a leadership role at their church and found that those in leadership were more likely to have a connection with people with a disability.
For example, 27% of attenders in a leadership role had a close family member with a disability, compared with 21% of attenders not in leadership. Also, some 20% of attenders in a leadership role had a friend who was disabled, versus just 12% of attenders not in a leadership role.
Given substantial experience of and connection with disability amidst churchgoers, do churchgoers highlight problems that prevent them from participating in church life? We examine health and physical access problems listed by attenders.
Almost all attenders (92%) said problems with physical access had never prevented them from being as involved in their local church as they would like. Some 5% said access problems had prevented them occasionally, 2% often and 1% mostly or always.
More attenders had been prevented from participating in church life due to their health. Around a quarter of church attenders said they experienced a health problem that limits their church involvement. Some 20% experienced such limitations occasionally, 4% often and 2% mostly or always.
N.B. Not included in these numbers are some 13% of attenders who skipped the question about physical access, and 12% who skipped the question about health.
The frequency of experiencing problems with health that prevented attenders from involvement at church differed by age. Perhaps understandably, the experience of such health problems tended to increase with age.
With such rates of personal experience of, and connection with, disability amongst churchgoers, it should be asked, what are churches doing to cater for people with disabilities at church? How welcome would people with disabilities feel at church? Are staff being trained to include a diversity of needs and facilitate inclusive gatherings?
Research results on these questions have been published in the articles below, and in the paper 'Disability, inclusion, provision and care in churches'.
A range of infographics are available for download on disability provision, inclusion and care in churches.
How active are local churches in caring for people with disabilities?
Many churches provide for disabilities, from ramps to an inclusive culture