Three questions about caring for and including people with disabilities

05 July 2018

Janet Noel-Annable of Kitchener, Ont., is the CEO of Christian Horizons, a charity that supports people with disabilities. We asked her what churches should know about caring for them.

Read more of our Three Questions Series of online interviews.
Photo above shows Janet Noel-Annable with Beamlak, a young Ethiopian.

Q1. How does faith impact everyday life at Christian Horizons?

Our Christian faith is at the heart of what we do and how we do it. Over 50 years ago, before we had government funding, Christian Horizons began as a response from a community of believers who saw it as an extension of their faith to help provide supports for people with disabilities. Our faith still remains central to who we are, now expressed through our four core values: Valuing People, Fostering Belonging, Serving Others, and Respecting Gifts. To us, these are so much more than statements – they are the real standards by which we evaluate our choices and direction. They guide how we support people and how we face new challenges. Chosen through prayerful consideration and many conversations with our staff and people we support, our commitment to our core values is part of our journey following God’s path for us.

Q2. What are the joys and challenges of your work?

The joys of our work are almost too many to count. Every time a person we support accomplishes a goal, there is joy; for that individual, for the people that work alongside them, for their families, and for their community. Those goals range can from taking a course to taking the bus – and they all have incredible meaning. I love when I have the opportunity to travel to our programs to meet people we support and our amazing staff team.

Some of the greatest joy I’ve experienced was seeing first-hand the impacts of our donor-funded work in developing nations. I recently reconnected with Beamlak, a young man who is part of an Inclusive Education Classroom in Asella, Ethiopia. I first met him on a visit to Asella two years ago. Ninety per cent of children with a disability in developing nations won’t ever have the opportunity to attend school. After seeing Beamlak a second time in 2017, and witnessing how he has learned and been embraced by his peers, it’s a joy I can barely describe.

Of course there are challenges that accompany joy – pressures to do more with less, to meet people where they are – but in these challenges, I’m reminded of Hebrews 12. There, Paul reminds us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame.” As we face challenges, the joy in our work is a powerful motivator.

Q3. What do you wish churches knew about caring for people with disabilities?

The idea that everybody belongs isn’t new. In fact, we believe inclusion and an understanding of our sameness – the vulnerability and weakness we all share regardless of ability – is the stance taken by Christ as a standard for his church.

When I visit churches, I often ask them to look around the pews – who do you see? We know that one in five Canadians experience a disability or mental health issue. While Christian Horizons exists to support the one in 200 with a developmental disability through our government-funded work, I ask our brothers and sisters in faith to look at their own communities. What does your congregation look like? Is there one person in five with a disability? One in 10 even? If not, the facts show us that there is a group of people, loved by God and made in His image, who are missing from your community – people who want to be connected and to experience belonging. And our communities are missing out by not welcoming the participation of people of all abilities. Our churches, neighbourhoods and friendships are far richer when everybody belongs.