USA Today reports that churches lag well behind the rest of society when it comes handicapped accessibility and barrier-free design.
Years after federal law required accommodations for the disabled, separation of church and state means houses of worship remain largely beyond the law’s reach. State laws and denominational measures meant to take up the slack are tricky to enforce and face resistance from churches who call them both costly and impractical.
The issue is gaining new attention as the disabled community expands, fed by aging baby boomers and a growing number of people with intellectual disabilities who are demanding a more prominent place in the pews.
A Centers for Disease Control report released in April found that an estimated 1 in 5 U.S. adults _47.5 million people — reported a disability. The National Organization on Disability estimates less than half of disabled Americans attend services at least once a month compared to 57% without disabilities….
While the Americans with Disabilities Act sets accessibility requirements in government and public buildings, churches are mostly shielded by separation of church and state rights. Exceptions include secular businesses within a church building.
The problem is partly monetary and partly motivational. Many congregations don’t see the need for accessibility and they don’t realize that even members of the general public who are not disabled have come to expect and take for granted accessible public spaces. Wider doors, curb cuts, steps with gentler rises, better lighting and more spacious facilities have all come about because of changes in the American with Disabilities Act.
And it is not just getting in out of buildings or restrooms that are of importance to persons with disabilities. Being able to sit with families via pew cutouts, adaptive listening devices, and interpretation or captioning for the hearing impaired can be add immensely to the sense of both worship and community.
USA Today talked to The Rev. Barbara Ramnaraine, coordinator of the Episcopal Disability Network, who says that changes like this can be pricey. The Episcopal Church, the newspaper says, “have passed efforts encouraging inclusion for years, but internal rules mean leaders can’t force a congregation’s hand.”
“While we say our goal is accessibility in all congregations, neither the secular law nor the law of the Episcopal church makes that possible,” Ramnaraine said.
That leaves it to churches to make including disabled worshipers a focus, often with little guidance.
Read the rest of the USA Today article here.
Here are Fifty Ways to make your congregation more accessible.