Even though religious organizations remain exempt from sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as it nears its 25th anniversary, the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America are voluntarily affirming full compliance of the ADA’s provisions and its intent for their 2,000 congregations in the U.S. and Canada.
As chief executives of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) and the Reformed Church in America (RCA), CRC Executive Director Steven Timmermans and RCA General Secretary Thomas De Vries have issued a joint statement declaring that they will work toward “full ADA compliance in our communities and toward accessible, welcoming congregations and ministries, where everybody belongs and everybody serves.”
This resolution celebrates “the progress that has been made by reaffirming the principles of equality and inclusion,” and it recommits both denominations “through our collaborative efforts, to establish congregations and communities in which people with disabilities are full, contributing members and citizens.”
With the ADA’s 25th anniversary on July 26, the CRC and RCA are highlighting this significant civil rights legislation by reaffirming their full support of people with disabilities and the commitment to removing barriers that limit their full participation in church and community life. Both denominations have made such affirmations previously.
Soon after the ADA was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, the Disability Concerns ministry of the CRC began work on a denominational resolution to apply the principles of the ADA to all of its churches and ministries. Thanks to work by its Disability Concerns director at that time, the Rev. Dr. James Vanderlaan, the CRC Synod in 1993 adopted a resolution encouraging all churches and ministries of the CRC in Canada and the U.S. to work toward full compliance with all the provisions and intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Although the ADA does not specifically apply to Canada, provinces there have instituted similar laws, says Mark Stephenson, the CRC’s director of the Office of Disability Concerns. In addition, he said, the Canadian federal government has both signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
CRC Disability Concerns has provided churches and ministries with a variety of tools to work toward full compliance of the act, including an annual survey of churches that began shortly after the 1993 resolution was passed.
That survey indicates that Christian Reformed churches in the U.S. and Canada have made significant progress in making their facilities more accessible. For example, in 2002, about 70 churches were fully accessible, compared to 300 today. During the same time, the CRC’s 1,100 churches have moved from fewer than half that were partially accessible to about 85 percent with partial accessibility.
In 2009, the RCA began its Disability Concerns ministry, working closely in partnership with CRC Disability Concerns. In 2011, both the RCA’s General Synod Council and the CRC’s Synod made formal commitments to provide reasonable accommodations for full accessibility at meetings of their highest denominational assemblies.
Together the two ministries are assisting 2,000 congregations to engage people with disabilities in congregational life by identifying, equipping, and organizing congregational and regional disability advocates; by sponsoring various training events; by producing print and web-based resources; and by consulting with church leaders concerning ministry with specific individuals.
More about the ADA and faith communities can be found online at the Collaborative on Faith and Disability.