THREE BASIC WAYS TO BECOME ACCESSIBLE
There are three basic ways to improve accessibility and worship possibilities for people with disabilities.
First, and most important, clergy and parishioners need to have a welcoming attitude. Often, people with disabilities feel as though they are not going to be as welcome as others. A welcoming attitude helps alleviate that concern. This welcoming attitude is discussed in greater detail in Ushers: Ministers of Hospitality. Other helpful tips on relating to people with disabilities are in Relating to People with Disabilities.
Second, a fundamental need is that your church be physically accessible. Of course, a worship area on the ground level is very desirable, but churches with ramps, elevators and other mechanisms that provide a level walking surface are also very helpful. Additional information regarding a church's physical accessibility can be found in the Accessibility Survey section.
Third, it is difficult to over-estimate the importance of having an easily accessible restroom that people with disabilities can use. People with disabilities generally feel more welcomed if this important provision is made. There is truth in the observation that people with disabilities will not attend worship if such facilities are not available.
Other ways to make your church more accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities have little or no cost and are listed below. They are taken directly from a paper by the same name, courtesy of the Episcopal Disability Network, www.edn4ministry.org.
MORE THAN 50 WAYS TO MAKE YOUR PARISH ACCESSIBLE AT LITTLE OR NO COST
1. Purchase large-print copies of the hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer. If cost is a problem, please contact us for assistance.
2. Consider replacing fixed pews with flexible seating. This will turn your worship space into multipurpose space which will allow persons who are disabled to participate fully in the life of your congregation.
3. Cut the ends of several existing pews so that wheelchair users may be seated with their families and friends rather than in specially designated, segregated sections.
4. If there are steps to your chancel and sanctuary, consider having a Communion Station on the floor of the nave. This allows young children, elderly persons, and persons with disabilities to receive the Sacrament in exactly the same way the rest of the congregation is doing.
5. Involve persons with disabilities in all planning for architectural modifications.
6. Think about converting two side by side bathrooms into one accessible uni-sex bathroom. Allow enough space for a wheelchair to turn around, and be sure to allow transfer space on both sides of the toilet.
7. Provide a paper cup dispenser near your water fountain. This will transform an inaccessible fountain into one accessible to wheelchair users.
8. If wheelchair users volunteer in your office, consider raising the height of your work surfaces so that the wheelchairs can fit comfortably at desk or table.
9. Suggest that your hearing-impaired parishioners sit close to the front of the nave where they can see the preacher and lectors. Ask the preacher and lectors to speak distinctly and slowly and to look frequently at the congregation since much lip reading takes place with persons who are hearing-impaired.
10. Install long-handled door hardware which is easier to everyone to use, especially those with impaired hand function.
11. Survey your microphone and sound system to make sure it meets the needs of those with high-frequency sound loss. Install headphones in selected pews, if necessary.
12. Apply brightly colored, textured strips at the tops of stairs to indicate that stairs are being approached. This will help not only persons who are visually-impaired, but also any person carrying something which blocks his/her vision.
13. Take altar flowers and service bulletins to people who are sick or shut-in.
14. Provide regular transportation for persons who are elderly or homebound to services and other parish activities.
15. Maintain regular communication with persons who are homebound so that they may continue to feel part of the parish.
16. Include children in plans to visit nursing homes and persons who are shut-in.
17. Discover and utilize sources of large-print, taped or Braille books, magazines and Bibles.
18. Develop a Christian Education day in which participants explore life as a person with a disability. Use wheelchairs, canes, crutches, blindfolds, etc. for these simulations.
19. Invite outside speakers to visit the parish and talk about issues and needs of people who have disabilities.
20. Show one or more of the excellent available videotapes about disability concerns.
21. Plan an adult education segment to discuss the non-architectural barriers to inclusiveness.
22. Remove snow and ice promptly from all sidewalks and parking lots.
23. Make a survey of current church lighting to ensure that the wattage is high enough and that the placement of textures ensures maximum visibility.
24. Make yourself knowledgeable of the needs of those persons with invisible handicaps such as diabetes, epilepsy, high blood pressure, mental illness, etc. In an adult education session, share information about these disabilities.
25. Develop discussion about and/or group support for conditions such as diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, stroke, etc.
26. Hold all fellowship activities and meetings in areas accessible to all, For instance, in the narthex, outside when weather permits, etc.
27. Encourage one-to-one relationships between persons who are elderly and youth or young couples.
28. Enlist the expertise of your parishioners (carpenters, plumbers, contractors, persons with disabilities, teachers, social workers, nurses) to accomplish simple accessibility and awareness tasks.
29. For your parish library, develop a section of resources on disability concerns.
30. Look for educational opportunities about disabilities and disability issues in your community.
31. Encourage parishioners to designate memorial gifts for accessibility projects.
32. Organize a Beep-baseball game, inviting one of the organized teams of blind people to play a team of your own blindfolded parishioners.
33. Visit accessible churches in your area.
34. Consult with local nursing homes to ascertain whether your parish might establish a ministry to and with their residents.
35. Share your facilities with organizations which serve persons who have disabilities or are homebound.
36. Consider getting involved in congregate dining, Meals on Wheels, or your own feeding program for persons with disabilities. You may want to share this ministry with other parishes in your community.
37. Set aside a bulletin board to display information and materials related to your accessibility project.
38. Explore ways of including members of your parish who are disabled in the education, fellowship and ministry as well as in the worship of the congregation. You might consider training them as lay readers or chalice bearers, asking them to teach in the church school program or to volunteer in the church office.
39. Seek ways of working with other denominations in your community on projects related to disability access and ministry.
40. Volunteer time at a day-care center, hospital, or rehabilitation center so that you may come to know and understand persons with disabilities better.
41. If you have persons with severe visual impairments in your congregation, install signage in Braille or raised letters.
42. If you have persons in your congregation who are deaf or severely hearing-impaired, install a light, rather than sound, cued fire alarm.
43. In the context of a Bible study or perhaps in a sermon, explore the differences between "healing" and "cure." All people can receive God's healing grace; not all persons will be cured.
44. Since many members of your congregation are employers and two-thirds of all people with severe disabilities are unemployed, become knowledgeable about issues around employment of persons who have disabilities; both from the employers' and the employees' viewpoints.
45. Develop a team of parishioners willing to write and call elected officials to lobby for legislation in the areas of accessible transportation and housing, employment for all who wish to work, and other issues pertinent to persons who are handicapped.
46. Survey your neighborhood to learn whether there are unmet needs, especially among persons who are elderly, homebound, or who have disabilities.
47. Many recreational activities such as cross-country skiing, canoeing, roller-skating, and camping can be enjoyed by persons who have disabilities, especially if they are partnered with an able-bodied person.
48. Educate yourself and your parishioners about environmental illnesses. Survey your cleaning supplies with mindfulness toward environmental sensitivities.
49. Suggest that your parishioners monitor the quantity of perfume, hair spray, or aftershave they use.
50. Designate your church and parish house a non-smoking area.
51. Let your diocese and denominational office know about your hopes and concerns for action in ministry with persons who are disabled.
52. Understand, accept and celebrate your own limitations. All of us are who we are because of, not in spite of, our limitations.