Training sessions seek to make church a place for everyone

Around 85% of people with and without disabilities state their faith is important, but only 47% of people with disabilities attend church at least once a month, most likely due to achitectural and invisible barriers.

Sometimes the quest for accessibility at church doesn’t end when the wheelchair ramp is installed.

Accessibility takes other forms, too. It is found in attitudes, in opportunities to serve, in social connections. At a recent Disability Specific Training for Faith Based Organizations session, presenters stressed that while many church buildings provide physical accommodations, attitudes sometimes still get in the way.

The training sessions are offered through the CPD, and they focus on dispelling both physical and attitudinal barriers. In addition to offering training, a website advises leaders of all faiths on ways to make sure all members are included.

Project director Marilyn Hammond said myths can also prevent people with disabilities from fully enjoying their faith experience. Sometimes church leaders and members assume wrongly that their congregation doesn’t have people with disabilities in it because some conditions—depression and diabetes, for example—are not obvious. They may assume that a person with a mental or an intellectual disability does not need religious instruction. They may not recognize that if one family member feels excluded, the rest of the family often stops coming to church, too.

But perhaps the biggest mistake that people without disabilities can make is to be so paralyzed by the fear of messing up that they don’t do anything. To learn more, see the full story on the CPD website.

CPD by the numbers

CPD projects disseminated 250,000 public awareness materials during the 2009 year, including pamphlets, brochures, information sheets and other communications.

"Tough Boris" and other outlines will help young English language learners build vocabulary

Dr. Gina Cook displays Mem Fox's Tough Boris.

A CPD research project focuses on helping young children from high-risk neighborhoods.

Now, even before the research results are in, children and their teachers nationwide will benefit from its efforts to engage teachers and students in reading. “Using Tough Boris to Promote Dialogic Reading Strategies” is the first of several training modules that will be produced through the project.

These outlines will help Head Start teachers build more vocabulary and promote language development. (Dialogic reading teaches the child to become the storyteller and to engage in conversation before, during and after the story.)

Researchers from the Early Intervention Research Institute at the CPD are working with a team at the Ogden-Weber Community Action Partnership Head Start to improve language, literacy and self-regulation among young children who may be learning a second language, facing developmental delays and living in a family situation where money is tight. The PEECSE project (Promoting Effective Engagement, Communication and Self-Regulation with English Language Learners) takes many approaches to encourage language development, but one specifically encourages teachers to engage children through stories.

Dr. Gina Cook developed the “Tough Boris” outline because dialogic reading doesn’t always come naturally to preschool teachers. “It takes more time,” she said. “It’s introducing new vocabulary in a way that children will understand. It’s promoting more language interactions between the children and the teachers. It’s asking questions instead of reading the book straight through.” In fact, teachers using this approach will end up reading the same story to children several times, until the children reach the point where they can tell the story themselves.

Cook developed the outline around Tough Boris, a story by Mem Fox. Her goal was to help teachers use the strategy in a way that keeps the story interesting to preschoolers as they repeat it. The payoff comes in an increased vocabulary and more language interaction—key goals in a project that focuses on children who face a lot of extra issues as they grow up.

Once the outline was finished, it was placed on the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center’s website, which offers information to Head Start teachers nationwide. Several other dialogic outlines will follow.

The PEECSE project is funded through Head Start as an innovative project. Dr. Lisa Boyce is its principal investigator, Dr. Mark Innocenti is its co-principal investigator, and four other researchers from the Early Intervention Research Institute are on its staff. In addition, the project employs three graduate and two undergraduate students.

The EIRI research team is analyzing data from the project’s second year and will soon submit a continuation grant.

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