What is a Parish Advocate?

 The Parish Advocate is a parishioner, approved by the pastor, who assists him in working for and with parishioners with disabilities. In consultation with the pastor, the advocate reaches out to the parish to identify needs, barriers, and offers to serve in ministerial roles. By responding to the identified needs and gifts, the parish advocate works to promote the full participation of children and adults with disabilities and elders in the life of the parish. 

Top three responsibilities of a Parish Advocate:

Be a visible and approachable presence in the parish

It is important to be as approachable as possible so that parishioners know that they can contact your parish for assistance regarding a disability if they need to. In general, it is best to have the person with a disability, their family members, or their caregivers contact you first. Many individuals with disabilities may be able to advocate fully for themselves and may not need assistance. In order to ensure that individuals contact you if they do need help, make sure there are various opportunities for members of the parish to reach out to you.  Here are some ideas:


Weekly presence in parish bulletin and on website

    • Example: Our parish desires the active participation of all members of our faith community. If you or your family member could benefit from an accommodation to facilitate your participation, please contact [Insert name of Parish advocate]. We are eager to assist you or your family member in any way that we can. [Email, Phone number]

Hold a Parish Access Forum

    • A Parish Access Forum invites parishioners to say accommodations that could help them of their loved ones better participate in the parish community (accessible bathrooms, enhanced lighting, better audio system, etc.).

Marketing for Events, Leadership Roles, Service Opportunities, etc.

    • Example: Please contact us if you could benefit from an accommodation such as screen reader access, wheelchair access, sign language interpretation, sensory adaptions, etc.

Catechetical Registration Forms

    • Example: Could your child benefit from an accommodation during their catechetical formation? If so, please describe below or schedule a time to discuss the needed accommodation with us in person. Accommodations could include (but are not limited to) extra time,  sensory adaptations, wheelchair access, sign language interpretation, extra breaks, picture exchange communication systems, screen reader access, etc.)

Work with your Network to determine best practices and resources                                                       

Learn about the current resources which pertain to disability access and contact your fellow advocates and diocesan director for support. (See resources section for more information.)

Top Organizations

    • National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD.org)
    • National Catholic Office for the Deaf (NCOD.org)
    • National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA.org)

Helpful Documents


Remember to consult with and listen to the person for whom you are advocating. Sometimes there is a temptation to respond to a person with a disability based on one’s past experience of disability, rather than the person currently before you. It is important to remember, however, that every disability is different and every person with a disability is different. The only way one can effectively advocate for a person with a disability is to get to know the person. Pay attention to the specific requests, gifts, and needs of the person for whom you are advocating.

Parish Advocate To-do List

Arrange a Meeting with your Pastor.

    • Keep in mind you work directly for your pastor, assisting him in this ministry. 
    • Ask for guidance on his priorities and areas on which you could focus.
    • Offer your insights and suggestions for his approval.
    • Create some shared objectives with timelines for completion.
    • Set up periodic meetings to discuss updates on objectives and new information. Try to avoid a “once then done” mentality; maintain ongoing and friendly communication.

Explain Your Role and Offer Support to all Parish Staff and Councils (Youth Ministry, Faith Formation, Pastoral Council, Music Ministry, etc.)

Offer a Disability Perspective to Parish Renovations

    • Does the church have flexible seating options for persons who use wheelchairs?
    • Can a person with mobility issues access all spaces within the parish? (altar, sacristy, congregation space, meeting rooms, bathrooms)

Establish Communications with Fellow Advocates

    • Utilize the (arch)diocesan network of Advocates to assist you in answering questions, learning best practices, and determining what is working and what is not working in neighboring parishes. Consider yourself not as an individual advocate, but more as a member of an (arch)diocesan-wide network of peers doing similar work while sharing similar challenges and successes.

*Note: In some parishes a team of advocates is identified and works together to accomplish the goals described in this resource.



Special thanks to Lawrence Kiley, Disability Director from the Diocese of Harrisburg for his contributions to this document.








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