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I was delightfully surprised when I reviewed a document produced by the city of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, called Plan and Design for Choice: Universal Design Guidelines for Outdoor Spaces.

The document begins with a brief philosophy about accessibility including a helpful infographic of the history of thinking about accessibility, and a list of seven principles of “Universal Design.” Ron Mace, a pioneer for Universal Design, defines this term: “Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

The authors of this document took these principles of “Universal Design” and applied them not only to the usual subjects for accessibility—pedestrian crossings and sidewalks, washrooms and drinking fountains, but also to subjects off the beaten path—benches and trash receptacles, picnic tables and condiment counters, water parks and horseback riding facilities.

Universal design assumes BOTH that people have different needs and different ways of doing the same thing AND that these different people should have equal access to public facilities. For example, let’s say three men want to use public showers: one can walk and stand without difficulty, another uses a walker and can stand for short periods of time, a third uses a wheelchair and cannot stand. Universal design seeks to make public showers that each of these men could use.

Universal Design begins with intentionality. The fact that different people will use the facilities they design is not an afterthought, but is the starting point of their work.

How would Universal Design look in a church setting? First and foremost, church leaders would assume that the people of their congregation have varying needs when entering the church building, viewing overheads, reading bulletins, listening to discussions in committee meetings, listening to sermons, visiting with others over coffee, sitting in worship services, using the bathroom, and doing all the other things people do in church. Among other things, church leaders would think about the following:

1. Facilities: Ensure that the entire church campus is accessible using principles of Universal Design. Check out those guidelines for outdoor spaces from Maple Ridge for the overall philosophy and for specific ideas. Also see Americans with Disabilities Act Architectural Guidelines.  Or see some other guideline such as the Ontarians with Disabilities Act

2. Visual Communication: Ensure that slides, bulletins, newsletters and so on can be used by all people including people with visual impairments using a guideline like the one on our site.

3. Auditory Communication: Ensure that people with hearing impairments can hear worship services and other church meetings using portable amplification devices or a hearing loop system.

4. Accessibility Audit: Do a thorough review of possible barriers to participation by people with disabilities in church facilities and programming.

5. Attitudes: Disability Concerns’ Handbook for Disability Advocates has some good ideas for this one.

This list gives a good beginning. What else would you add?


Mark Stephenson on November 17, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Great point. And I assume that you would agree that this "push" should not just on a "Disabilty Awareness" Sunday. The principle of intentionality would also suggest that people with disabilties are invited to be involved in leadership roles, and language should be inclusive. You and I have had some discussion about that already!

Attitudes...when we can start looking around and accept that no one person is alike, then tolerance, respect, patience, and true relationships will flow.  I also think it's important to 'own' our faith first...look deep inside and make sure we are always working on building our relationship with God.  When that is what fuels us, differences-big or small-will fade and we will start to see the true relationships around us-not the people who annoy us...just a heartfelt ramble:)


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