Universal Design on a Diocesan Level 

Young woman with a disability hugging a priest in the midst of a crowd of people.

 Essential Components

There is no question that organization and structure are essential to an effective ministry with people with disabilities. However, there is no oneway to structure this ministry, as evidenced by the variety of configurations currently operating in dioceses throughout the country. We are witnessing the downsizing or consolidation of many programs, and in some cases, directors have been required to assume responsibility for additional ministries. These trends have made clear the need for creativity and openness to change when considering how best to create a welcoming and inclusive community of faith for all, including Catholics with disabilities.


While NCPD's mission of encouraging full and meaningful participation by people with disabilities in the life of the Church community has never wavered, the models and recommendations outlined in this section reflect NCPD's evolving judgment of how best to infuse disability concerns and perspectives into the consciousness, planning, and programs of every level of the church community.

Structures, and the direction and speed in which this ministry evolves within any diocese will vary according to a number of factors, including the following:

  • vision, mission, and ministerial focus of the Ordinary;
  • size and demographics of the diocese;
  • availability of funds;
  • additional duties outside the disability ministry which have been assigned to the diocesan director (hereafter referred to as “the director”);
  • number of staff persons in this ministry;
  • programs currently in existence; and
  • needs that are particu­lar to a local population (e.g., presence of an institution, group home or a school for the deaf).

The following components are essential to an effective ministry with people with disabilities, regardless of where the ministry is ultimately placed within the diocesan structure:

Provides access to the bishop or his designee.

It is desirable that the director have an opportunity to meet with the Ordinary to determine his priorities, and assure that the ministry fits within the mission and ministerial scope of the diocese. Ongoing communication with and support from the leadership of the diocese is critical to the success and relevance of the ministry.


Clearly identifies placement of ministry within the diocesan structure.

Ideally, the bishop or his designee identifies the mission and goals for the ministry and where it will fit within the diocesan structure. In some dioceses, this ministry is coordinated through Catholic Charities or the offices of Family Life, Pro-Life, or Religious Education. In others, there is a separate office, while some utilize a diocesan commission composed of directors of various diocesan departments. Staffing patterns vary significantly as well. Some dioceses have a full-time director with several staff members, others have only a full-time director with a shared secretary, others have a part-time director who wears many other hats for the diocese, and still others rely solely on volunteers. Regardless of the ministry structure, the director should have access to colleagues from various diocesan offices to ensure collaborative efforts for integration and inclusion.


Respects the discrete levels at which the ministry is carried out.

This ministry is truly successful if disability concerns are addressed by every diocesan and parish office as part of their regular plans and programs. Therefore, the director acts as a consultant to diocesan and parish personnel, infusing a knowledge of disability perspectives and concerns, but allowing the direct interaction with and welcoming of people with disabilities to be made by each office or parish. Thus the director, rather than running special programs, enables the various levels within the church structure to provide essential services.

For example, once parish advocates have been identified and trained, they are more effective in promoting access and welcome in their parish than could be the director operating from a diocesan level. Likewise, a parish would be encouraged and provided with support and resources to prepare a student with mental retardation to receive first reconciliation and Eucharist, rather than a separate program being offered at the diocesan level.


Provides sufficient personnel and financial resources.     

Adequate staffing and funding enables a ministry to achieve its goals, thereby enriching the diocese, and fulfilling its mission of building the Body of Christ.


Utilizes competent personnel.

The bishop or designee hires a director qualified to implement the mission and goals throughout the diocese, whether establishing the ministry for the first time or assuming leadership for a ministry with pre-existing programs and possibly staff and volunteers. Section B of this chapter details necessary qualifications and responsibilities of the director.


Delineates clear role descriptions and lines of authority, and provides adequate supervision.

This ministry more effectively carries out the diocesan mission when it is supported by competent staff, whose role is clearly defined and supervised.


 Creates opportunities for people with disabilities to participate meaningfully.

Diocesan offices and parishes, with the support of the director, create opportunities for meaningful participation for people with disabilities and their families in all aspects of the church community, including the following:

  • faith formation and the sacramental life of the church;
  • the ministerial, educational, and social life of the church;
  • parish activities;
  • offering their gifts to the community, including as priests and religious, and in other leadership roles.


Incorporates a disability perspective into all areas of the faith community and facilitates collaboration.

Rather than focusing on running programs and providing direct services, the director helps diocesan offices and parishes to assume their responsibility to welcome and include parishioners with disabilities. Such consultation includes:

Diocesan level

  • works with other diocesan offices, including, but not limited to, Building and Grounds, Worship, Family Life,   Religious Education, Communications, Social Concerns, Vocations, Development;
  • communicates with seminaries and religious communities;
  • works with the Catholic media;
  • identifies key resource people, such as architects knowledgeable on access, sign language interpreters;
  • builds a resource library.

Parish level

  • shares resources and offers strategies to pastors, DREs, parish councils;
  • trains and supports parish advocates;
  •  utilizes parish bulletins and newsletters;
  •  trains catechists to support students with special needs.

Collaboration requires a linkage among offices and departments. Such linkage facilitates cooperation and communication, and helps to clarify lines of authority. Collaborative efforts may include co-sponsorship of a diocesan conference or special event, participation on an advisory commission, co-authorship of a manual for parishes.

Keeps abreast of current and emerging social policy issues, trends, and threats which impact on the life and options of people with disabilities and their families.

In order to promote disability awareness adequately, the director must be informed on the myriad issues affecting the lives of people with disabilities, including the following: 

  • social security, welfare, and economic policy;
  • health care, managed care, health maintenance organizations;
  • education, rehabilitation, and independent living;
  • family support issues;
  • emerging ethical issues such as euthanasia and assisted suicide, eradicating of disability through abortion, genetic testing and pre-birth diagnosis.

Keeping abreast of such issues enables the director to address more adequately the concerns of people with disabilities and their families, as well as to educate others throughout the diocese.


Priorities, Goals, and Objectives

The director of this ministry is hired to coordinate diocesan services for people with disabilities in order to ensure their full and meaningful participation in the faith community. During initial planning, the director of a new office or ministry establishes goals and objectives for fulfilling the mission and priorities defined by the bishop or his designee. In some cases the bishop may delegate the responsibility of defining priorities to the director. In either case, the goals and objectives, and the time lines within which they are to be accomplished, should be based on a realistic assessment of staff and resource availability. Care should be taken not to set up the ministry for failure by being overly ambitious when defining and setting goals and objectives. Accomplishment of achievable goals sets a firm foundation for future growth.

When assuming responsibility for a pre-existing program or office, the director must familiarize himself or herself with the already defined goals and objectives, staff and volunteers, and must subsequently develop appropriate time lines and action plan. For each identified priority, goals and objec­tives are defined which describe a desired end to be accomplished through a series of concrete tasks. As the diagram on the following page illustrates, each level of the plan supports the next higher level. The priorities, goals, objectives, and tasks together constitute a plan of action for the director, staff members, and parish advocates. In order to accomplish the over-arching mission, components of the plan must work harmoniously and stay on target. Tasks must initially be clearly defined to ensure that actions do not stray, but rather stay related to goals and objectives.