Conversation in a sign lanuage

Kenyan Sign Language (KLS) teacher Jeylani Luhize Muse pictured in conversation with LWF staff Longok Joseph – who wears a vest reading 'leave no one behind' – at Shabele Primary School in Kakuma, Turkana County, Kenya. Run by the Lutheran World Federation, Shabele Primary School in Kakuma refugee camp provides education for close to more than 3,000 students of different ages. The school applies a concept of inclusive education, welcoming hearing-impaired children into regular classes as a way of breaking stigma around disabilities.


My cerebral palsy is and will be a part of my life until the Lord God comes to take me up to heaven one day. My cerebral is a small part of the entire me…Everything that I have achieved in life thus far has been done with my cerebral palsy,” added Wat, an independent educational professional.

It is usual for faith communities in Africa to exclude persons with disabilities like Wat due to their impairment.

However, a change is expected as churches on the continent agree on guidelines to facilitate inclusion and acceptance of persons with disabilities in the church and communities.

Representatives of churches and organizations of persons with disabilities developed the strategies at the conference in Johannesburg, South Africa from 10-14 December. 

The gathering, organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network, drew participants from the Anglican Church in South Africa, the Presbyterian Community of Kinshasa (a member of Church of Christ in Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo), and the Nigerian Baptist Community.

Its a significant development. We are happy to see churches working together in an effort to open doors for persons with disabilities. These are guidelines that I hope the churches will embrace in unity,” said Angeline Okola, a Kenya Quaker who coordinates the WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network.

According to church officials, the churches will release the guidelines, which also include ideas and best practices, in January in form of a booklet. Disability activists and leaders hope the strategies will bring about real and lasting change among the churches in Africa, by encouraging them to accept more persons with disabilities. 

The actions come at a time when exclusion continues to manifest through experiences, including violence, as well as physical, psychological, and emotional suffering. In a variety of ways made to oppress, the most visible acts are those that manifest in a form of ableism, according to the conferences concept document. 

In view of this, the conference sought to integrate practical actions in disability inclusion, including creating networks to think and talk about disability. It also sought to build interactive and functional networks of persons with disabilities, clergy, and church leaders.

Rev. Dr Helen Ewena Ishola-Esan, president of Baptist Theological Seminary in the Nigerian town of Eku, said the guidelines will help churches understand the rationale for inclusiveness in worship leadership and experiences.

It will spell out ways in which integrating and inclusiveness of persons with disabilities could be done in meaningful and impactful ways,” said Ishola- Esan.

Sebenzile Matsebula, a former director of the Office on the Status of Disabled Persons in the Presidency of South Africa described the guidelines as a cornerstone [on which] persons with disabilities can become part of faith-based communities. 

They will emancipate persons with disabilities for meaningful worship. They will also empower the church to understand the importance of inclusion of persons with disabilities,” said Matsebula, a member of the Anglican Church in South Africa.

During the conference, participants heard that churches should remain places where people find unconditional love, security, and peace, instead of discrimination.

From sharing the guidelines, to checking if disability can be included in theological curriculums, the participants promised to embrace the guidelines.

Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN)