Uniting Church WA Adopts Disability Access and Inclusion Policy

The Policy recognises and aligns with the Disability Welcome and Access statement which was affirmed at the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia in 2018. The initial draft Disability Access and Inclusion Policy was introduced to the church community in a presentation to the 46th Synod in 2022. The Task Group invited Rev Andy Calder, a Disability Advocate from the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria/Tasmania to present an overview and reasons for our Synod to adopt this Policy. He was joined by Robert Muir, a member of the Task Group, sharing his lived experience and insights into some of the issues and difficulties relating to the needs of people living with disability in the church and community. Following this presentation members of the Synod were invited to ask questions, discuss, and provide feedback to the Task Group on ways the church can be more inclusive, recognising barriers to inclusion, and how we can make the gospel mandate a reality in our communities.

The final draft of the Policy was presented to the 47th Synod by Task Group members Michael Chester, Co-CEO of Uniting WA, alongside Cindy Gorton, Executive Officer: Culture of Safety with the Uniting Church WA.

“The Uniting Church in Western Australia (UCAWA) is committed to the principle of the welcome, access and inclusion of any person living with a disability in order for each one to participate fully in the life of the Church.”

Introduction to Disability Access and Inclusion Policy

When introducing the Disability Access and Inclusion Policy to the Synod in session, Michael Chester said:
“The Uniting Church acknowledges that people who live with disability have the same rights as everyone else. We embrace the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and observe Australian, state and territory laws that uphold those rights.
This Policy sets out the way each congregation, mission outreach, agency, school, and college can respect these rights and respond sensitively and in an inclusive manner to a person with a disability who seeks to be an active participant in the life of the church.”

Michael Chester, Co-CEO Uniting WA Presenting the Disability Access and Inclusion Policy to the Synod

In the Policy there is acknowledgement that for many people with a disability, life and faith have not always reflected the church’s vision of welcome, access and inclusion. However in seeking to be a community of reconciliation, the Uniting Church WA is committed to creating an environment of safety and opportunity for all people in the Church, recognising “that the more diverse and inclusive the Church community, the richer it will become”.

The next step is to work on a Disability Access and Inclusion Plan (DAIP) to strengthen the impact and implementation of the Policy. It is envisaged that the DAIP will inform the hearts and minds of church and community members about people with disabilities so that accessibility and inclusion become second nature to us all.

The Policy also encourages congregations, agencies, and schools to develop their own Disability Access and Inclusion Plans, specific to their individual situations and relevant legislative requirements, further contributing to a positive difference to lives
of people with disabilities in the Uniting Church WA community.

When Robert Muir heard that the Policy had been adopted, he said,

“I am very happy to hear that Synod has passed this Policy in its recent gathering. My hope now
is that congregations will involve people with disabilities more in their service and activity planning wherever possible. I am hoping in the future that the Uniting Church will hold a worship service once a year specifically for people with disabilities and include them to take a large part in the formalities.”

Robert Muir

You can read the full policy document on the Culture of Safety page of the Uniting Church WA website – www.unitingchurchwa. org.au/culture-of-safety/royal- commission

This article was written by Wendy Hendry, first published in the December 2023 edition of Revive Magazine

Robert Muir giving a presentation about Disability Access and Inclusion at 2022 Annual Synod

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