AGM and Conference ‘Disability and Accessibility’

On a damp and windswept evening early in November the Bristol Multi Faith Forum opened the doors of theUnitarian Chapel on Brunswick Square to welcome people to its Annual General Meeting. With members of the major faith groups in the city present along with representatives of the City
Council, the LGBT Forum and Disability Forum, the meeting received the annual reports, noting the growth in the Forum’s network of contacts and
the broadening of the engagement of different faith communities with each other and with the city over the year. Tribute was paid to the BMFF
Development Worker whose commitment to the work of the Forum has enriched its life and enabled more ambitious projects.

Concluding the business of the meeting we turned to consider issues of access and enabling participation for people with disabilities – in the buildings and practices of faith communities. In an informal and informative presentation the Forum heard of some of the issues and frustrations of people with physical impairments when encountering doorways, steps, toilet facilities. With the services of an interpreter we ‘heard’ the frustrations of a profoundly deaf person who longed to contribute to her community’s thinking and development and challenged community leaders to find volunteers to learn British Sign Language who could enable communications.
Another attendee was blind and highlighted the ways in which a partially or non sighted person could need the thought and understanding of their community in order to take a full and active part in its life. Another spoke of the issues arising for a parent of a disabled child in accessing a faith community building where she and the child could participate in worship and activities. It was good to hear first hand experiences and be challenged to think, to be aware and to make the often small changes that can make a big difference. All of our faith traditions aim to encourage
people into the worship and life of the community and the conclusion of the meeting was that we are all rightly challenged to listen to the need of people with disabilities to enable their full participation. It was an inspiring discussion and sharing it across our diverse communities was a healthy beginning towards change and inclusion.
Tracey Lewis