Ways to Make your Parish More Accessible
At Little or No Cost
Adapted for use in the Diocese of New York by the Diocesan Accessibility Committee from an Episcopal Disability Network Bulletin
To learn about disabilities:
- Visit the Accessibility Committee web pages of the Diocese of New York website..
- Develop a section of resources on disability concerns in your parish library.
- Look for opportunities to learn about disabilities and disability issues in your community.
- Visit accessible churches in your area.
- Invite outside speakers to talk about the issues and needs of people with disabilities
- Explore in sermons and discussions groups the difference between curing and healing.
- Set aside a bulletin board to display information and materials related to your accessibility project
For those who are blind or have vision limitations:
- Provide the bulletin with complete service in large print .
- Purchase large-print copies of the Hymnal and Book of Common Prayer
- Use the lectionary from the website in large print.
- Use a font without serifs (Arial) for all printed materials.
- Apply brightly colored, textured strips at the tops of stairs to indicate that stairs are being approached. This helps people with limited vision and anyone carrying something that blocks his or her vision.
- Survey church lighting to be sure wattage is high enough and that placement of fixtures ensures maximum visibility
- If there is the potential for need, install signage in braille or raised letters.
- Allow front row seating for people who do not see well.
For those who are hard of hearing or late deafened:
- Allow front row seating for parishioners who are hard of hearing
- Discourage delivery of the sermon from the center aisle; a moving speaker is hard to hear.
- Survey your microphone and sound system to make sure it meets the needs of those with hearing loss.
- Include people with hearing loss in the planning and purchase of a sound system with assistive listening system.
- Borrow one of the listening systems that the Accessibility Committee has for loan to parishes.
- Set up a test demonstration of the system for everyone to try out. Hearing loss is stigmatized and those who could benefit from help are often hesitant to ask for it. You can announce that the parish has been asked to test equipment and how it sounds in different parts of the nave.
- Install a light-cued fire alarm, selecting one entirely safe; some light frequencies can trigger seizures in people who may be prone to them.
To ensure wheelchair accessibility within your church and provide for mobility limitations:
- Cut down pews to make space to allow people in wheelchairs to sit with their families instead of in segregated sections.
- Think about converting two side by side bathrooms into one accessible unisex restroom.
- Provide a paper cup dispenser near your water fountain.
- Install long-handled door hardware.
- Provide a seat riser for the commode.
- Hold all activities in areas that are accessible to everyone. Consider moving the coffee hour to the back of the church.
- Involve people with disabilities in all planning for architectural modification.
To recognize medical and environmental disabilities:
- Educate yourselves about environmentally induced illnesses.
- Suggest that your parishioners limit the quantity of perfume, hair spray and after-shave lotion they use. Increasing numbers of people allergic to scent.
- Designate your church and parish house and surrounding grounds as a smoke-free area.
- Learn about the needs of people with invisible medical disabilities such as diabetes, asthma etc…
For shut-ins and those who are unable to come to church on their own:
- Take altar flowers and service bulletins to people who are sick or shut in.
- Consider taping sermon or the whole service for people who are homebound
- Provide regular transportation for parishioners unable to come otherwise.
- Maintain regular communication with people who are homebound so that they may feel part of the parish
- Develop a ministry to match people who are willing to drive with those who need the help.
- Encourage intergenerational one-on-one relationships.
- Consult with local nursing homes to ascertain whether your parish might establish a ministry to and with their residents.
- Survey your neighborhood for ways to help people who are disabled, elderly or homebound.
To promote better understanding of people with disabilities:
- Develop a Christian Education day in which participants explore life as a person with a disability – wheelchairs, canes, crutches, blindfolds, special eye coverings that simulate vision disorders and ear plugs to cut out sound.
- Borrow the video “The Ten Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities” from the Committee for showing and discussion.
- Plan an adult education program to discuss non-architectural barriers to inclusiveness.
- Explore ways of including members with disabilities in all aspects of parish life.
- Seek ways of working with other denominations in your community on projects related to disability access and ministry.