Fiona Hill has been appointed as the diocese's first Disability Officer, working two days a week based at Church House, Leeds, but also aiming to go out and visit churches and help parishes become more disability friendly.
Before coming to Leeds, Fiona spent a year working with the Anglican church in the Hague and, prior to that, as a support worker, mentor and study skills tutor at two universities working with students with disabilities.
“My two previous roles, both with the church and with working with people with disabilities have come together in this new role”, says Fiona.
Part of Fiona’s job will be to help churches become more welcoming and inclusive, something which since the Equalities Act of 2010 has been a legal requirement.
The Equality Act, which applies to churches, as “service providers”, requires churches to make “reasonable adjustments” to features which could be barriers to disabled people.
There are 10 million disabled people in the UK and while wheelchair-users are only about 7.5% of all disabled people there are many “hidden” disabilities: for example, dyslexia, epilepsy, arthritis and other conditions which cause significant levels of pain, diabetes, mental health problems, autism spectrum conditions.
“I’m not here to dictate to churches”, adds Fiona, “but to highlight that God hasn’t created an ‘exclusive’ world – God is inclusive.”
She stresses that there is much that can be done at little or no cost to improve the churches welcome and will be developing training and resources to help churches. “It isn’t sufficient to wait until someone with a particular need turns up in church – we should be thinking how our welcome, worship, teaching and other activities can include everyone.”
To contact Fiona email firstname.lastname@example.org
Find more about the Equalities Act on the Disability web page here