Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most businesses are now required to accommodate those with disabilities, but religious organizations are exempt. This means that churches are not required by law to make their buildings handicap accessible. However, many congregations are striving to be inclusive. Here are some ways you can improve your church’s accessibility to those with physical or mental disabilities.
Create Handicap Parking Spaces
Accessibility starts on the outside of your building. Designate the parking spaces closest to the church entrance(s) as handicap spots. It’s not enough to just install handicap parking signage; you also need to make sure the sidewalk next to these spaces can accommodate wheelchairs, either with a level surface or a special dip built into the sidewalk.
Handicap parking will not only benefit those in wheelchairs. Elderly members and people with injuries or other medical conditions may find it hard to walk long distances. These handicap spaces will be a great investment that benefit many parishioners.
Install Ramps and Automatic Doors
The next areas to consider are your entrances and exits. Do you have ramps available for wheelchairs and strollers? Do the doors have a button or automatic sliding feature? If not, your church should invest in these features to make it easier for members to come and go.
Consider Elevators or Stairlifts
An elevator is a big investment, but will solve accessibility issues for buildings with multiple floors. Stairlifts are another option for carrying people up and down stairs. There are even wheelchair elevators – platforms that are specially designed to carry wheelchairs up and down between floors of a building.
Provide Handicap Seating in Your Church
If your church has traditional pews, this could present challenges to many people. The spacing between pews is too narrow to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers. Larger people may also find it difficult to fit in the pew. To accommodate these people, tear out a few sections of pews and replace them with church chairs. Or make the switch to all church chairs in your sanctuary.
Make Bathrooms Accessible
Consider all aspects of a bathroom that might present a challenge to members with physical disabilities:
- Stall size
- Toilet seat height
- Location of the toilet paper dispenser
- Placement of grab bars
- Sink height
- Soap dispenser
- Paper towel dispensers or hand dryers
- Mirror height
You can either add handicap stalls to your current bathrooms, or create a separate handicap accessible bathroom in your church to accommodate all these features.
Make Signage and Program Materials Accessible to Those with Vision Problems
Make it easy for blind members to navigate and follow along with the service by investing in braille signage and books. For those who have poor vision, provide large print copies of program materials. Also create your signage with a large, easy-to-read font.
Accommodate Those with Hearing Loss
For the deaf or hard of hearing, church services can be completely inaccessible. Investing in a better quality sound system is a good first step to accommodate these people, but think about how you can go a step further. Could you add subtitles to any video content you use? Maybe the pastor can transcribe the sermon and hand out copies before the service starts.
Be Mindful of Members with Cognitive Disabilities
Don’t forget to include people with cognitive disabilities. Church members with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other sensory disorders might not be comfortable with the way the service is run. They might prefer not to interact too closely with other members, find it hard to pay attention through a lengthy service, or feel disturbed by loud sounds or flashing lights from the worship music performance.
Designate a section of the church for these members so that they can participate in a way that makes them feel comfortable. This could be a separate room built onto the sanctuary, or a few rows of seats in the main church area. You might also create separate Sunday school classes for those with intellectual or cognitive disabilities so that they can learn at a pace that’s right for them.
Some of these accommodations are fairly simple, while others require significant investment. If the cost is daunting, don’t feel you have to make all the changes at once. Start with the smallest adjustments and work up to the larger ones.
If you are in the process of making your church more accessible to those with mobility issues, consider ChurchPlaza for your seating needs. We offer comfortable church chairs for your congregation. Contact a sales representative in your area or request a free sample for your church today!