Foundational Principles of Universal Design

 Foundational Principles of a Universally Designed Ministry

Is Christ-centered, and fits within the mission and ministerial scope of the diocese.

Christ, who reached out to all people in love and compassion, is at the heart of this ministry. The bishops, in their 1978 Pastoral Statement, remind us that, “Concern for people with disabilities was one of the prominent notes of Jesus' earthly ministry....The Church that Jesus founded would surely have been derelict had it failed to respond to His example in its attention to people with disabilities.” (paragraphs 4 and 5)

In addition to being Christ-centered, it is essential that any diocesan ministry be sanctioned by the bishop and conform to the diocesan mission and goals. Parish ministry would likewise be sanctioned by the pastor and conform to the parish mission and goals.


Has a broad vision in its coordination and planning.

Planning for a universally designed ministry encompasses looking at all the possibilities of creating a mosaic of participation by Catholics with disabilities in all facets of the life of the Church. Care must be taken to avoid traditional models or narrow perspectives which tend to isolate people in special programs.

Planning involves this visioning process, combined with setting of priorities, goals and objectives, described in detail later in this section. Planning should be ongoing and systematic, with regularly scheduled evaluations, review, and modifications.


Recognizes and values the dignity and uniqueness of each individual.

In a 1992 address, the Holy Father reminded us that: “Every human person, as international legislation clearly recognizes, is the subject of fundamental rights which are inalienable, inviolable, and indivisible. Every human being is always worthy of maximum respect and has the right to express his or her dignity as a person fully.”[5] This ministry respects and honors the gift of life bestowed upon each of us by our loving God.


Fully includes people with disabilities in the life of the Community of Faith. 

As outlined in the mission statement, this ministry is inclusive, calling for people with disabilities to participate fully in the faith community. Rather than advocating separate programs, the director or parish advocate follows Christ's example of welcome and the mandates of the U.S. bishops, who stated, “There can be no separate Church for people with disabilities. We are one flock that serves a single shepherd.” (par. 33) The director provides resources and consultations to all areas of the church to assist in calling forth Catholics with disabilities to full membership and participation. Working within the parish, the parish advocate offers advice and resources to the pastor and other priests, parish council, school staff, committee chairs and members, and others in leadership within the parish.


Calls each person forth to share in and contribute to the celebrations and obligations of the faith.

By virtue of baptism, each person is a vital member of the Body of Christ, and is called to contribute to the building up of the this Body. The Code of Canon Law addresses this responsibility of the Christian faithful: “...those who, inasmuch as they have been incorporated in Christ through baptism, have been constituted as the people of God; for this reason, since they have become sharers in Christ's priestly, prophetic, and royal office in their own manner, they are called to exercise the mission which God has entrusted to the Church to fulfill in the world, in accord with the condition proper to each one.”[6]

In addition, the U.S. bishops, in their 1978 Pastoral Statement urge that people with disabilities be supported in living out their Christian responsibility to serve the community: “Full participation in the Christian community has another important aspect that must not be overlooked. When we think of people with disabilities in relation to ministry, we tend automatically to think of doing something for them. We do not reflect that they can do something for us and with us...Moreover, they have the same duty as all members of the community to do the Lord's work in the world, according to their God-given talents and capacity.” (par. 17)


Acknowledges disability and functional limitations as a common and prevalent part of the living process.

In recent years a shifting paradigm has replaced the medical model which sees those with impairments as patients whose needs must be met in special ways, with a political socioeconomic alternative which conceptualizes the environment and attitudes as the handicapping factors. A new definition asserts that disabilities are the normal and anticipated outcome of the risks, strains, and stresses of the living process itself, occurring in utero, at the moment of birth, or at any stage along the life cycle. Therefore, the condition ceases to be merely an individual tragedy and becomes an expectation within any community.

A 1991 Louis Harris and Associates survey indicates that one family in three has a member with a disability.[7] Based on these surveys, NCPD estimates that ten million Catholics in the United States have a functional limitation. In any given parish or diocese, it can be expected that 15-20% of the Catholic population has a disability significant enough to warrant accommodations to increase the individual's ability to participate more fully. In addition, aging individuals who may not report themselves as having a disability often experience diminished mobility, vision, hearing, and mental capacities.

People with disabilities are a part of every demographic classification, although they are often clustered at the outer margins of any particular category: the poorest of those in economic distress; the most unschooled of the inadequately educated, and the most commonly unemployed. Disabling conditions can add one more barrier to overcome for those already members of a minority. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act defines those with disabilities as the newest and largest minority in its own right.


Identifies human vulnerability as a catalyst in bringing people together and renewing the community.

The presence of a disability is a normal part of the living process, which in no way diminishes the dignity or value of an individual. In fact, vulnerability may be seen as the catalyst which brings us into community and Church with renewed recognition of our need for each other and our Lord. It is the acknowledgment of this interdependency that weaves the threads of our society and Church together. Even the most severely disabled person is capable of teaching the important lessons of love.


Does not generalize about disabilities, recognizing every person's experience of disability, skills, and coping mechanisms as unique.

Often people with disabling conditions are grouped according to their disability, with no recognition of their individual skills and abilities. The uniqueness of each person should be respected. People should be treated as individuals and given the opportunity to speak for themselves and explain their needs, rather than be defined, categorized, and clustered by their disability.

In 1993, the American Association on Mental Retardation issued a new definition of mental retardation to provide a clearer, more practical approach to diagnosis and habilitation, and to redirect the assumption of mental retardation as an absolute trait to that of a condition which can be improved with the right supports. This important shift in emphasis can and should be applied to any disabling condition, recognizing that appropriate supports lessen many of the limitations faced by individuals.


Appreciates accessibility features and inclusion as of mutual benefit to the entire community. 

It has been noted that what is a necessity for one, is a convenience for many. As physical access is becoming the norm in our society, the entire community is benefiting from such accommodations as curb cuts, ramps, widened doors, increased lighting, and improved sound systems.

Ron Mace explains the advantage to society of universal design, “My whole philosophy has been to get away from those labels like `special' and `aging' and `barrier free.' If universal design elements were simply made part of all building codes, it would benefit everyone.”[8]


Is open to change and growth.

Everyone in ministry should expect to grow, and be stretched, challenged and changed. As anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time knows:

- definitions change

- expectations change

- perceptions change

- perspectives change

- policies change

- situations change

- needs change

- skills change

- responsibilities change

- structures change.


To To be successful in building an inclusive and welcoming community of faith, personnel at both the diocesan and parish levels need to be willing to respond to such changes with creativity, ingenuity, and flexibility. Ongoing education and other efforts should be made to keep abreast of current initiatives and thinking in order to maintain relevance.