Worship and Disabilities

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Every week as people arrive through the front doors of our church building, we see all types of people.  People that we love dearly: young, old, families, singles, teens, college students, etc.  In the midst of those people are those that come in wheelcharis, walkers, carry oxygen tanks, have arthritis, can't read well, are blind.  These members and attenders are the ones who come to my mind when we talk about disabilities and worship.

In every case, worship begins in the parking lot.  Can those who need special parking spaces park easily? Is the parking lot cleared of snow and debris? Is there a set of doors that either someone is there to open or have an automatic door opener?  Or better yet, do you have valet parking for those who have trouble walking from the parking lot to the front door so they don't have to walk so far?

Once our members are in the building, do they have to hurdle various tables, displays, and crowds of people to hang up their coats on the coat rack?  Can they find their way into the sanctuary easily without obstacles such as steps, or a hidden elevator in some corner at the opposite end of the building?   

Can they find a seat that they feel comfortable in sitting for an hour.  Let's face it, typically those wooden pews (the ones with no padding) are not such good sitters for people who have no issues, but for those who have arthritis, other and other physical impairments, may find them particularly difficult to sit in for an hour or so.

During worship, can they worship with the congregation? can they see the screens? Hold the hymnal and Bible, Read the order of worship? Can they hear the minister?  (Loop technology, and other devices are beneficial).

After the service during fellowship, do they feel a part of the congregation or are they perceived as a specticle?  When they leave, they have equipment, (motorized wheelchair, etc) or need special attention?  Are the same obsticales mentioned before upon arriving haunt them as they leave as well?

I'm sure that I am only touching the surface, and not addressing other areas,  but these areas of concern have a growing awareness in our culture, and we as worship leaders, need to be aware of all of these matters when the opportunity presents itself.

What improvements have you made in the past to aid your members and attenders to become integrated on Sunday during worship?

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Our church has two entrances (north & south). The handicapped parking is on the north lot where we have an elevator to transport those individuals that need it. Because we have stairs at the south entrance we cannot label parking spaces as Handicapped as the access to the building is limited. Instead we have installed parking signs that state: PARKING RESERVED FOR ELDERLY DURING SERVICES. This was requested by some seniors that have some limitations, but still able to walk upstairs. They also noted that the parking spaces at the south entrance is closer to the door.

Community Builder

We are in the process of forming a committee to look at these type of specific questions--How to be proactively inclusive of members with known disabilities, as well as anticipate needs of future members and guests of our facilities in our mid-week ministries.

We are working with our Regional Classis Disabilities Advocate to study an assessment and then make some recommendations to the council and committees in specific ways we would like to see our church's attitudes, as well as facilities, being more aware and ready to accommodate all of God's children, whatever their abilities.

I encourage others to voice their ideas and challenges here as well.

Thank you!

Guide

Kevin, thanks for highlighting this important topic. Great to read what Gary's and Geri's churches are doing. Disability Concerns offers a variety of free resources on this topic on our Resources for Accessibility and Awareness page including our Inclusion Handbook and an accessibility audit guide.