I've been thinking about writing in this topic for quite some time. As a church girl, worship leader, advocate, and mama bear to kiddos who are differently-abled I have seen the need for accessibility close up. My two eldest two kiddos had a part in the Christmas services at our church a couple of years ago. They had some lines to recite in a musical pause and I was thrilled for them! After the excitement came the figuring-it-out part. Our platform is about 4.5 ft above the main auditorium floor, which means that my kiddos had to navigate several stairs to reach their spot. My son was still learning how to navigate stairs and couldn't do so independently yet. And then there was the microphone. My son's arm do not have much motion in his elbows or the strength to hold a wireless mic. I was on platform playing during their portion so leaving to help was not an option. My husband wasn't there for all of the services as he was with our other kiddos. We figured it out but my son told me on the way home that he wished he was different, that he moved and could bend like everyone else.
Perhaps our experience mirrors your own, if not I'm praying that it will open your eyes to what the church is discovering- that when we say "Welcome home." from our respective platforms we should do our best to welcome precious ones with disabilities. Emily Gilbert of Seekers Church spoke up for a quadriplegic friend when their congregation was renovating a brownstone outside of Washington D.C. When her friend helped to write the Americans with Disabilities Act, she was oftentimes told, "Our building doesn't need changes because we don't have any handicapped people here." I defer to the great cinematic quote from Field of Dreams- "If you build it, he (they) will come."
Some persons are born with disabilities others acquire them by sickness, injury, or age. In every instance the design of our buildings speak to those individuals, sometimes louder than our welcome message. In a recent survey by the National Organization on Disability only 47 percent of those with disabilities attend religious services at least once a month. That leaves a massive population outside of the Church.
Yes, it can be costly to ensure that all people can worship and serve in their church. And yes, I know that houses of worship do not have to be ADA compliant. But we may. Serving and reaching others is the cause of Christ, His beloved. We have the power to include or exclude. Seekers Church has a congregation size of 50 people. Yet this church family chose to include sidewalk modifications, outdoor and indoor ramps, an elevator, moveable furniture and more accommodations for their guests.
How well does your church welcome people who are differently abled?
- Ask someone with disabilities or a wheelchair user to help evaluate areas of the facilities. Note what areas are not easily accessible.
- Work with parents of special needs kiddos to ensure a safe and accessible environment for kids church.
- Are wheelchairs on hand in case someone requires one? Have they been checked over to make sure that they are in working order.
- Have volunteers been trained in how to help someone transfer in and out of a wheelchair? Or do they know how to navigate through doors if pushing someone in a wheelchair. (I had a rough experience in a church provided wheelchair once. The foot rests were significantly uneven and the volunteer kept kneeing me in the back when trying to cross thresholds. It was not pleasant.)
- Do you have sign language interpretation during the worship service?
- Research churches that have implemented changes based on ADA compliance. What makes their design work and how can it be adapted for your use.