Mark Pinsky discusses accessibility and churches at Alban Institute this week:
The U.S. Census in 2000 counted 54 million persons with disabilities—one in six Americans—and that number is growing. Wounded Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, including men and women with amputations, traumatic brain injuries, and posttraumatic stress disorder, are swelling this population. Thanks to dramatic technological advances and improvements in neonatal care, formerly atrisk infants with severe and multiple disabilities now survive into adulthood. With the aid of breathing and feeding technologies and adaptive devices such as electronically operated prosthetics and speechsynthesizing computers, they are able to navigate and communicate. And the huge baby boom generation will soon be aging into infirmity, with attendant challenges of disabilities in hearing, vision, mobility, and cognition.
Members of all these groups want to pray at houses of worship. Yet a 2010 survey by the Kessler Foundation and the National Organization on Disability found that people with disabilities are less likely to attend religious services at least once a month than are people without disabilities, by a 50 percent to 57 percent margin. The greater the disability, the less likely a person is to participate.
For most of us, practices of faith can play a significant role in enriching the lives of people with disabilities and their families, friends, caregivers, and faith communities. But how far can—or should—modern religious congregations go to accommodate people with physical or intellectual disabilities?
Even congregations with the best of intentions can face challenges to fully embracing accessibility and inclusion. Seniors and people with disabilities can remind others uncomfortably of life’s fragility and of death. People with emotional and intellectual disabilities can distract other worshipers during solemn moments. Religious people generally want to be sincere, welcoming, and open, but like everyone else, they often lack the experience to respond in the right way.
“Of all the barriers to full participation and inclusion, the barrier of unexamined attitudes is the most difficult to address,” said Ginny Thornburgh, director of the AAPD Interfaith Initiative. The initiative’s goal, she said, is “to bring the powerful and prophetic voice of the faith community to the twentyfirstcentury disability agenda” and to involve all religious communities. “There are no barriers to God’s love,” she said. “There should be no barriers in God’s house.”
Read more here.