Is Your Church Disabled Accessible or Disabled Friendly?
By Mike Thompson
In 1998 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Over the years MS has progressed in my body causing my ability to walk to decrease. I have moved from weakness in my legs to a cane, forearm crutches, a manual wheelchair, to currently in a power wheelchair. During this time, I have come to realize that while some buildings may be considered disabled accessible, they are not disabled friendly as they do not think through how the accommodation benefits the disabled or if it helps at all.
With this in mind I would like for you to consider some areas in your church facilities and determine if they are accessible or friendly.
- Have you made any reasonable accommodations to your facility? Many times churches will make accommodations to their building or grounds to make it easier for their aging members to access the building. Remember just because you solved one person’s issue, it may be a hindrance for others. For example, installing a ramp so members can avoid the steps is a hindrance to someone in a manual wheelchair if the pitch of the ramp is too great.
- Do you have adequate disabled parking for guest? While the size of your parking lot may only require you have 3 disabled spaces, if they are always full then where is the disabled guest to park?
- Do you have parking for a wheelchair accessible vehicle? This is a disabled space with the wider striped zone for landing spot for a wheelchair ramp. I know the thought is why do we need this, no one in our church is in a wheelchair. Remember the thought process should not be focusing on who you have, but who might God bring?
- Are your bathrooms accessible? I have been invited to preach in a church in which my wheelchair cannot even fit through the door of the bathroom. I mean really? Here is a great example of the difference between accessible and friendly. Where are the soap and hand towel dispensers located? Are they all up high toward the back of the sink, or is there at least one that is located near the front of the sink and lower for individuals in wheelchairs? As you can see becoming disability friendly does not have to be expensive, just think through some things from the view of the disabled.
- Is there space for a wheelchair in your sanctuary? I have visited many churches over the years and most do not have room for a wheelchair. Well, they believe they do as they place me in front of the first row. I have only been in one church which had half size pews towards the middle of the sanctuary. I was so excited that they had actually thought about the disabled. That is until I was told that space was reserved for a long time member. So to the front I went.
These are only a few examples of disabled accessible vs. friendly. My hope and prayer is that you will begin thinking through how you can make your facility friendlier to the disabled. Trust me when someone with a disability visits your church, they will notice what you have done and be most thankful.
For further information, check out this website: http://www.livability.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Life-to-the-Full-Church-resource-booklet1.pdf
Mike Thompson served in churches in SC for 15 years. He has been coaching and consulting pastors and staff for the past 5 years. In 1998 Mike was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis which has allowed him to have a unique view of the church. For more information about Mike and his ministry, visit mikethompsonministries.com