By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
Christmas Eve 1995 was a day Dan Adragna of Sacramento, California, would rather forget. He was only 30, but a diabetic. That day he entered a Santa Cruz clinic after developing double pneumonia. During his first three days in the hospital, his heart stopped beating four times. As doctors worked feverishly to save his life, he had blood transfusions, an emergency tracheotomy, a 107-degree body temperature, and kidney failure. He was in a coma seven weeks. Ultimately, gangrene affected his feet and a surgeon had to amputate both his legs mid-calf. Amazingly, he somehow survived his ordeal and learned to walk again using artificial legs.
Today, Adragna is the Sacramento area director for Joni and Friends, an international, faith-based nonprofit serving people with disabilities. In an email interview, Adragna said, “Invariably, when people find out I walk using two, below-knee prosthetic legs, they are very surprised and often impressed with how well I do. Typically, I respond by saying (walking with them) has become second nature and rarely do I even think about them anymore. Occasionally, someone expresses sympathy. But I quickly turn that around by saying how fortunate I am to be able to walk after spending eight months in a wheelchair before getting my first set of legs. I explain I used to take walking for granted, but no more.”
He said places of worship generally could do much better welcoming people with disabilities and their families. The first step in establishing a disability ministry, he said, was a place of worship making a conscience, corporate decision to actively welcome affected individuals and families. The next step was surveying the condition of the facility grounds and buildings for accessibility issues, including parking, bathrooms, and doorways, and making any changes. Greeter and usher training should be provided to insure all feel welcome. Lastly, he suggested enlisting a disability-related organization, like Joni and Friends, to provide children's ministry staff and volunteer training to better serve visiting families affected by disability.
As for other advice concerning starting a disability ministry at a place of worship, Adragna said, “Although (a disability ministry) may seem daunting to begin, a loving heart is all that’s required. Often, one child with special needs and a buddy to accompany that child is all it takes. If one family is able to attend a church service because of that one buddy, you're doing special needs ministry.”
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