Disability Ministry

In July 2022 General Synod unanimously carried the motion: “Affirming and including Disabled People in the Whole Life of the Church”.

In brief that motion affirmed “disabled people to be fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God” and made the following unequivocal commitment:

“…mindful of the progress already made in removing some of the barriers facing disabled people, both clergy and lay, commit to working towards the removal of all remaining barriers to full participation for disabled people in the life and ministry of the church.”

As stated in the motion: “Disabled people are by far the largest marginalised group of people across the full breadth of the CofE.”

Disability is not an issue concerning the “other”, nor is it about charity - it is about justice, 22% of the UK working-age population are disabled. Given that this figure is based upon a medicalised definition of disability and the fact that all of us are to one extent or another only ever temporarily, if ever, non-dependent, even this surprising statistic is a gross under-estimate. We all either are, or will be, touched by disability during our lifetime.

Much work has been done on our church buildings but much more is needed if we are to fully represent the richness of the whole body of Christ. For whilst access is good and inclusion is good, belonging is so much better - this is about more than ramps, loops and loos.


Your Disability Adviser


Revd Judith Walker-Hutchinson has recently accepted the role of Disability Adviser for the Diocese of Durham.

About Judith: Chartered Public Accountant, businesswoman and former CEO Judith was ordained priest and served her Title in the (then) Ripon & Leeds Diocese of the Church of England before taking up the role of Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Haddington in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

She was reluctantly forced to give up her stipendiary ministerial role in 2011, when surgery undertaken in 1979 to correct a significant spinal birth defect finally failed and her condition became too disabling to allow her to continue in full-time work.

As Judith slowly found ways of living drug-free with the constant, severe, intractable pain, the impact on her mobility and the auto-immune diseases precipitated by the condition and its treatment, she has gradually developed her work as a ceramic artist.

Judith worships within and supports the parish of Barnard Castle with Whorlton and Barnard Castle Deanery. She lives in the beautiful Teesdale village of Cotherstone with her cat Greebo, where she formerly shared her home with her now adult children and her husband David who was Reader in the parish and from whom she was recently bereaved.


Judith says: It is my great privilege to have been asked to succeed Bill Braviner as Disability Advisor. As ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisers’ in the Diocese we are here to empower, advise and listen to, those we seek to represent.

However, no one person could ever possibly ‘stand for’ all disabled persons, any more than one individual could ever be representative of the entirety of humanity. Disability is a truly equal opportunity provider; it knows no boundaries of age, gender, status, personal privilege or any other social stratification. It can be temporary or permanent, it can affect the mind, the body and/or the emotions, and touches every aspect of the human condition. But it is important to remember that in all cases, no matter how profound, disability is only one aspect of self, even if it may not always feel like that to the affected individual and their loved ones.

Since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 and its successor the Equality Act 2010 I am hopeful that most of our buildings are at least as compliant as possible with the minimum standards of the law with regard to physical access (there is always room for improvement and if you are still working on this in your place of worship see below for some pointers to guidance). But not only is disability indiscriminate, it is also often invisible, a fact aptly illustrated by the presumption of most folk that as I am no longer always reliant on my wheelchair I have somehow been miraculously ‘cured’ - I have not! And that is to say nothing of the many and varied forms of disability that are never visible in the first place.

So in addition to ensuring that we no longer put literal ‘stumbling blocks’ between God and God’s people, my hope is that together we can work towards eradicating the many unwitting ways in which we as church currently further injure the disabled person by disabling them in faith without ever intending or realising.


Working to realise the vision: It is patently obvious that the vast majority of our congregations do not yet comprehensively represent even those formally judged to be disabled using the ‘medical model’ of disability. Until and unless we do, we not only deny those persons so deemed to be disabled a place in our faith communities but also access to the nurture of, and growth in, their own faith and love of Jesus so essential to human flourishing. Further we as ‘church’ remain diminished, denying ourselves as a community the richness of grace present only in the fullness of God’s people - and we wound Christ again, for as St Paul reminds us: "just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

It is vital that as we develop, we care with the disabled members of our community, not seeing me and others only as people to be cared for.

What I can offer is a safe, empathetic listening space based on my own lived experience of disability and of being disabled in faith. I also bring a willingness not to pretend I know it all but to seek out supportive networks when my own knowledge and experience are found wanting. Where necessary I can also offer advocacy, a willingness to stand ‘by’ if not ‘for’.

  • As well as engaging in ongoing individual case work, I hope in the coming months to make myself available to Deaneries for preliminary discussion of where I may be able to offer guidance, support or signposting as we look to become more representative.

  • If you are a member of the clergy of the Diocese and consider yourself disabled I would also love to hear from you to establish potential interest in developing confidential, supportive networks.

  • If you are an individual disciple or seeker, lay or ordained, reading this and have struggled in your faith journey because of disability you can contact me for confidential support and crucially to share your experience in order to educate me, and hopefully the wider church.

For initial contact please use my email:



Ways of thinking about disability


  • Equality Act definition - According to the 2010 Equality Act you are disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.


As well as this legal definition there are many other models of disability. Among them are the following:


  • Medical Model - Subtext: Disability in an individual is a negative which needs fixing by the individual.

  • Social Model - Subtext: Disability is a difference in the individual, however the disabling systemic barriers need fixing by society.

  • Charity Model - Subtext: Disability is pitiable and to be avoided by those who are strong.

  • Economic Model - Subtext: Disabled people cost society more than they contribute to society.

  • Religious Model - Subtext: Disability is a punishment handed out for a sin committed presently or historically, or a test of piety and faith.


For more information on ‘Disability Landscape and Language’ see Tupling, K. “Being Disabled, Being Human - Challenging Society’s Perception of Disability and Personhood” (Grove Books Ltd.; Cambridge, 2022)



With many thanks to John Beauchamp - Disability Adviser to the Diocese of London for compiling and sharing many of these links


The law


General information


General advocacy and resource groups


Sight loss



  • The British Dyslexia Association – Support for those with dyslexia and useful information to help make all aspects of an organisation more accessible.  Including a useful downloadable resource guide to producing dyslexia friendly publications – https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk


Learning disabilities

  • Mencap – the voice of learning disability – www.mencap.org.uk

  • Count Everyone In – support, training and encouragement for churches to include adults with learning disabilities – www.counteveryonein.org.uk

  • The Additional Needs Alliance – helping churches to include, support, create places of belonging for, and spiritually grow children, young people and young adults with additional needs or disabilities.  Support, training  and information for families and churches to make inclusion a reality. https://additionalneedsalliance.org.uk

  • Urban Saints Invited to belong’ – Training to make your youth and childrens ministry welcoming to young people with additional needs – www.energize.uk.net/articles/additional_needs/resources/invited_belong


Neuro divergent

  • The National Autistic Society – includes guidance for places of worship – www.autism.org.uk



  • Memory Bridge – resources to encourage and equip the creation of meaningful relationships with people with dementia. www.memorybridge.org

  • The Alzheimers Society – united against dementia. www.alzheimers.org.uk

  • Dementia Friendly Church – a UK project run by The Prama Foundation helping churches to know how to become dementia friendly. www.dementiafriendlychurch.org.uk


Mental health


Building and access

  • Inspired North East - Information and advice for local church congregations considering or embarking upon church development projects


Digital accessibility

The national Church of Englands Digital Labs Blogs have some great articles, especially the following links:

Powered by Church Edit