Changing ideas about disabilities

Changing ideas about disabilities

EqUUal Access seeks to enable the full engagement of people with disabilities in UU communities and the broader society.

Elaine McArdle
hearing loop installed in General Assembly floor, 2016

A temporary hearing loop, installed in the General Assembly plenary hall in 2016, allows those with hearing loss to listen to the sound system via t-coil hearing aid or headset. (© Nancy Pierce)

© Nancy Pierce


More than 56 million Americans—19 percent of the population—have disabilities, with at least half of those disabilities severe ones, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many millions more are family, friends, caretakers, or coworkers of persons with disabilities.

Yet people with disabilities often find themselves ignored, misunderstood, or mistreated—a situation that EqUUal Access, an advocacy and support group for Unitarian Universalists living with disabilities and their families, friends, and allies, is working to change.

“People with disabilities are constantly dehumanized in our society and told that our lives are worth less, or worthless,” said Suzanne Fast, president of EqUUal Access, who incurred a disability in mid-life. “I think our faith calls us to confront those attitudes as they’ve been internalized in ourselves and calls us to be in the world to say ‘no’ to that.”

EqUUal Access receives significant support from the Unitarian Universalist Association, including for a part-time administrator, but it is primarily an organization of volunteers passionate about making a change, she said. Formed in 2008, it seeks to enable the full engagement of people with disabilities in UU communities and the broader society, according to its mission statement, by working to raise awareness, empower change, and promote a framework for advocacy grounded in the UU faith. EqUUal Access currently has about 275 members.

EqUUal Access provides resources to help UU communities become barrier-free and inclusive, incorporate the gifts of ministry offered by people with disabilities into the faith community, and enable congregations to understand and minister to the spiritual and personal needs of people with disabilities, their families, and friends. It also collaborates with the UUA and other UU organizations to counter oppression.

One of its major projects is the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry Program (AIM), a new certification program to help congregations become more inclusive and accessible to people living with disabilities, which it formally launched in 2015 in partnership with the UUA. (See “Congregations AIM for Inclusion.”)

EqUUal Access is open to not just those with disabilities, but everyone interested in this area of social justice, Fast emphasized. It offered two well-attended workshops at General Assembly 2016, where it also awarded the first of a planned annual award for best sermon, to Monterey Buchanan, for a sermon entitled “The Disability Come to Jesus Talk.”

“As someone who is routinely dismissed in our society, I feel very strongly that everyone’s dignity is important,” Fast said. “Disability is a natural part of the variation of human beings, but . . . society creates barriers” for people with disabilities.

EqUUal Access takes a human rights approach to the issue of disability, she said, and it’s important that UUs realize that many social justice issues that UUs are passionate about disproportionately affect persons with disabilities. “Whether it’s the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, voter rights suppression, income inequality—I have yet to think of an initiative we are involved with where people with disabilities are not impacted way out of proportion to our presence in the population.”

Related resources

EqUUal Access
An advocacy and support group for UUs living with disabilities.

Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry (AIM) Program
The aim credentialing program is a congregational program focused on welcoming, embracing, integrating, and supporting people with disabilities and their families in UU congregations.

AIM application process
The aim application process is divided into three phases. You must submit the paperwork for each packet to the aim administrator for approval before moving to the next phase.

Disability and accessibility resources from the UUA
The UUA offers a number of helpful guides related to disability and accessibility, including how to find an accessible congregation in your area, ways to make your congregation more accessible, resources for children, accessible buildings and websites, and more.

Access-L email list
An open forum to meet other people with and without disabilities who are interested in matters relating to accessibility, ableism, and ability/disability.