By Kathryn McCormack
Separation of church and state has been an important pillar of our country since its inception. An individual’s freedom to explore his or her faith should be available to all who choose to cultivate a deeper sense of purpose in life and belonging within their communities.
Often, this freedom is taken for granted, however, as it’s not fully understood that there is a large population of individuals unable to express their faith in the same way.
They include our neighbors, our family, our friends.
Positive intent aside, the separation of church and state created a unique barrier for people with disabilities. Whereas Federal law requires specific accommodations be made for the disabled through the Americans with Disabilities Act, churches are not required to impose accessibility regulations.
Some local officials have taken steps to ensure equal religious accommodations for people with disabilities; however, without specific laws to abide by, these are difficult to enforce. The result is a lack of understanding about the challenges individuals with disabilities face when wanting to join in worship, and little guidance in making them a priority.
As the community of people with disabilities grows — fed by aging baby boomers and an increasing number of individuals with intellectual impairments — providing access to all is becoming a more prominent issue. Americans with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups in the United States. One out of every five adults has a disability, the most common being a mobility limitation.
Opening your church doors to all gives every person the freedom to explore his or her faith — and it also helps increase membership and promotes a deeper sense of community through inclusion.
Because the issue is not in the forefront of most people’s minds, many churches do not understand the practical benefits or the value brought by making a few accessibility adjustments. There are many ways to accommodate every individual wanting to join in worship. Most of these can be added to existing structures and are not cost-prohibitive.
In addition, there are several programs that provide grants to churches to improve communication and architectural accessibility for people with disabilities.
The first step in creating an accessible worship environment is allowing entry to all. For example, adding automatic door openers to entryways / exits, restrooms and common areas can make a big difference without breaking the bank.
Additional ways your church can enhance accessibility include adding:
- Wheelchair ramps
- Braille signage
- Textured flooring
- Moveable lecterns
- Assistive listening devices
Countless people sit at home wanting to join in worship, but feel they can’t because of limitations in accessibility. Together, we can make a huge difference in their lives by making worshippers with disabilities a main focus, rather than an afterthought.
After all, the blind and lame were central to the mission of Christ. Let us follow in His footsteps and join in that mission together, helping make this world a more accepting place, one open door at a time.
Kathryn McCormack is VP, Strategy at Power Access Corporation.