Helping people become aware of various kinds of barriers is an important service to people who have disabilities, said Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director over curriculum.
Elder Pinnock said he has observed that once individuals recognize and understand what barriers are faced by people with disabilities, they are more accepting of those individuals and help remove the barriers."A barrier is anything that would hold someone back from realizing his or her potential," said Elder Pinnock. "In life, all of us are faced with barriers. Sometimes the barrier is a road block. For those who have physical disabilities, barriers may be stairs, or doors that are difficult to open. For others, barriers are found in not being able to think clearly or to reason things out, or to be able to see or to hear. Sometimes barriers are just when someone is prejudiced against us.
"Our great task becomes the job of helping our brothers and sisters be more alert to the needs of members who have disabilities," said Elder Pinnock. "We know that in a home where there is a child with a disability, family members quickly adjust to the challenge, and they all work together as one unit. That's how it is in wards when bishops know there are individuals who might need a ramp or a hearing device, or a patient teacher to work with someone with a neurological insufficiency, or a driver to help with transporting the blind or others with physical disabilities.
"To remove barriers, we have a two-fold task. First, we need to heighten the sensitivity of our members toward those who have disabilities. The other task is to produce materials that those with disabilities can utilize." (See related article on page 10.)
Elder Pinnock has seen outstanding examples of Church members and leaders working together to help those with disabilities enjoy all the blessings of the gospel. "Our hope is that as many people as possible will feel part of the mainstream of the Church," he said.
"Just a few weeks ago, I was in Sioux Falls, S.D., and I noticed a Primary worker who was doing a magnificent job with the American Sign Language for the Deaf. After the meeting, I asked the Primary president how many children there were in Primary who were deaf.
She said there was just one.
"I felt that was a classic example of taking care of the one. The Primary leaders were working as hard to help that one child as they would have worked had there been 50 or 100 needing sign language to understand whatwas going on in Primary."
He said while not all who are deaf or hearing impaired use sign language, the efforts of those Primary teachers and leaders show how barriers can be overcome.
Elder Pinnock said members generally are not aware of the great number of Latter-day Saints who have disabilities. In a typical ward of 432 members, 50 members may have disabilities of some kind, ranging from the more obvious - those who use wheelchairs, crutches or canes - to the "invisible," such as learning disabilities, intellectual impairments, and mental and emotional illnesses.
"In the Church, we are doing all that we know to do to help remove barriers. From our building plans to our curriculum and resource materials, we are trying to be as sensitive and as aware as possible of the needs of each member."