Why Be an Accessible Church? (Part II of III)

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The first article in this series can be found here: Introduction: The ADA and The Church 

The Gospel message of being accepted by God is made inaccessible when we ignore human variations in seeing, hearing, and reading, Thinking of your neighbor as yourself may lead to using technology for worship in ways that exclude people with hidden impairments who are not like yourself. Jesus gave us a new commandment, “As I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). His sacrificial love reaches and relates to us all. 

One-third to one-half of your neighbors are not like you. They may be unable to see or read the same print, or screen projection, or LCD font size, colors, style, or word concentration. They may not be able to hear from the church's sound system as well as other church members or leaders. We are, perhaps inadvertently, building walls that keep them out.

Churches which lobbied Congress to exclude religious organizations from the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) later confessed they were wrong, but some have not yet added repentance to their confession. They ignore the law’s meanings instead of teaching the Biblical basis of the ADA. This is partly done by misconstruing the ADA as being similar to a church’s charitable ministry outreach to anyone, which is an individual needs approach. 

The ADA does cover individuals. It is, however, mainly about the responsibility of institutions not to disable people in the first place, but to be accessible with what they create—how we set up church—before anyone shows up. 

Congregations in the USA or Canada would not be granted a permit to build or remodel without including accessible doors and lavatory facilities and, if there was more than one story, an elevator. Yet some churches consistently add or upgrade their sound systems without adding a hearing loop. They buy computers, copiers, and projectors without making large print alternatives. They use substandard size font and do not follow accessibility standards for font style or color contrast, or word concentration in print, digital projection, LCD, Internet Websites, email, live-stream, Zoom, apps, and social media.

Those are worldwide standards. More than 180 countries ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which emphasizes creating accessible information and communication systems. Each country has laws similar to the ADA (e.g. www.ada.gov and www.aoda.ca).

We could be worldwide leaders in accessibility. Instead, some churches and schools in America and Canada do not teach on these human variations in our neighbors or ourselves. Consequently we fail to teach how to use our worship technology in ways that fulfill required, Biblically-based standards. Some churches promote the fallacy that the intention to be accessible is the same as being accessible; an add-on by grace not by law, a choice in case someone is left out.

More than 100 million people in America are left out. More than 20 million Americans cannot see well even with glasses or contacts (AFB 2012). The Center for Disease Control estimates 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss (HLAA, 2014). The National Institute of Literacy (2013) estimates 40 million Americans of working age (18-65) lack even a basic literacy level (an 11 year old or 5th grade level). Many "someones" are kept out. 

The population of Canada is roughly one tenth the size of the United States. The 2012 Canadian Survey on Disability found almost one million people with a vision loss and more than a million people with a hearing loss. In 2012 almost half (48.5% of Canadians age 16 to 65) had low literacy skills (Canadian Literacy Network, 2015). These are more than individual problems. The problem is that some churches disable many people by their misuse of technology.

Based on countries which collect this data, 314 million people worldwide have impaired vision and 360 million have a disabling hearing loss (WHO.org, 2010). In addition, 775 million adults worldwide lack minimum literacy skills (UNESCO.org, 2014). These adult "someones" do not see, hear, or read as well as or as quickly as their neighbors and we repel them instead of reaching them.

Not all 1.5 billion people want to attend church or want to or even know how to request accommodations for access which single them out as different. Some of those that would attend are being blocked from the Gospel and Christian fellowship and service whenever there is misuse of our information and communication technology which could easily be used accessibly.

I have found too many churches in America, Canada, and worldwide that excommunicate people instead of including us in the New Commandment and Great Commission (John 15:12, Matt. 28:18-20).

I also find that speaking truth to power when power tries to conceal it is difficult. It may help to challenge the following ten, too often repeated obstructions to being an accessible church. 

  1. failing to teach the Biblical basis of the ADA and similar local laws
  2. folding the ADA into outreach to all people with any special need instead of removing institutional barriers before anyone needing access shows up
  3. foisting confusion between the work of caring for individuals and the work of creating  a safe, inclusive, non-disabling environment. Both are needed.
  4. promoting the fallacy that being prepared to provide access >in case it is needed< is the same as being accessible (which is always needed)
  5. claiming a majority of the church does not need or want its technology set up for greater accessibility when the minority is already mostly excluded and has no voice, except unspoken scripture
  6. challenging the style or tone of the message or messenger or changing the  topic to anything else, but not engaging with the content of the ADA message
  7. biased claims that lack of accessibility is due to the technology itself
  8. misleading claims that lack of access is due to a lack of trained volunteers
  9. continued ignorance of the ADA, lack of preparation, and silence about what is available (which are all violations of the law)
  10. aspiring to display technology instead of trying to be a display of Christ followers

See all three new articles:

  1. The ADA and The Church
  2. Why Be An Accessible Church?
  3. A Scriptural Look at Creating an Accessible Church

In Christ,
Dr. John Jay Frank

To learn more, visit www.minstrelmissions.com. Click on the book’s picture to see the Preface, TOC and Introduction to, Turning Barriers Into Bridges, and, Come, Worship In Spirit and In Truth, both books by Dr. John Jay Frank. 

Questions or comments? Contact [email protected]

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