What will enable people with disabilities to participate fully in your community? Learn about the special needs of people with disabilities in these pages. Some accommodations, such as an accessible bathroom or elevator, are costly, but many, such as higher wattage light bulbs or large-print bulletins, have a minimal price tag. View the list of resources for information, advice and mentoring.
What constitutes a disability?
An individual with a disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a person who has a history or record of such impairment; or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment. For more information, visit the ADA web site.
How many people are impacted by disability in the United States?
One in five people in the United States has a disability. However, when you add family members who are directly affected by an individual’s disability, almost 50% of the population is impacted by disability.
How can we serve people with disabilities?
Some people with disabilities need wheelchair accessibility for church functions. Many more with limitations in hearing, vision, or cognitive development, can benefit from such church provisions as an assistive listening system, service materials in large print and adjustments in program planning that recognize their special needs.
We are often unaware of those among us with such disabilities and of ways in which a church can serve them, sometimes at little monetary cost. Click on Ways to Make Your Parish More Accessible for a list of a variety of things you can do for little or no cost.
How do we make our church more accessible?
There are a number of steps to the process. It is best to find some like-minded people in your congregation who can work on the issue with you. After a group is formed, look at your present needs as a parish. Survey your congregants. Are there people who have trouble hearing the sermon? Or who can no longer read the service bulletin or words of the hymns? Or, who don’t come to coffee hour because the stairs are a barrier? Talk also with people who have stopped coming to church entirely. Include everyone in the process from the beginning; you need all perspectives.
Once you determine the needs, begin to put together a plan with short-term and long-term goals. Examine your facility to see what can you can easily do to make worship and community life more inviting: providing large print prayer books and hymnals; installing an assistive listening system to complement your church’s sound system or purchasing one that is portable and not connected to a sound system.
When systems are in place, education is needed so that ushers are familiar with wheelchair etiquette, know how to explain the use of an assistive listening device, and know how to offer a large-print edition to someone with low vision. You also need to publicize your provisions for disabilities so that those who could benefit from your efforts, will.
More expensive accommodations will require work with the vestry or bishop’s committee and may require a capital campaign to get the job done. There may be some limited grants available, but most of the work accomplished in churches thus far has come from churches members who live out their commitment to be a house of prayer for all people.
How much will it cost?
That depends upon the individual needs of your congregation.
How can my church get funding?
The diocese does not have sufficient funds to make grants to congregations for accessibility projects. Aging buildings, roofs and furnaces come first. However, if you offer services to the community in your buildings you might also be able to get a grant under the ADA.
Aren’t churches exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Churches are exempt unless they house community programs in their buildings. If a church runs a nursery school or other community program or rents space to a group that does, the requirements of the ADA apply to that space. The church should work with the provider of the community services to make the space accessible.
How can I obtain large-print materials for worship?
Check our Visually Disabled and Blind section for information on ordering large-print prayer books and hymnals. Large print service leaflets can easily be produced by any parish with a computer or a copier with enlargement capabilities.
How do I make my service leaflet more accessible?
Size and style of font can make a big difference. A sans serif font like Arial is best for someone with low vision problems. It is also helpful for the average person sitting in a dim section of the church. Most copying machines can expand the size of type. Have some programs available in larger type. An even better solution is to make it clearer for everybody so people with low vision do not feel like they are standing out in the crowd.
Is there anything I can do for people with serious vision limitations?
People whose vision is seriously limited have difficulty with the hymnal, even when enlarged. Many find it easier to follow the verses when they are printed as a poem, without the music.
We have a donor who would like to provide a sound system so that everyone might hear. Are there guidelines established for this sort of installation?
Yes, the United States Access Board has published accessibility guidelines for installers, providers and consumers. The brochures are available from the Federal Access Bureau website.
Can a general sound system serve the severely hard of hearing without special devices being provided?
No, absolutely not. The U.S. Access Board brochures for providers of assistive listening systems explain exactly why this is not possible.
How can one be sure that the organ and choir will not boom in order for the preacher to be heard? Does this require a body mic?
It won’t boom if the assistive listening system is properly installed and you do need a body mike. The preacher and celebrant do not need to raise their voices; the sound will go directly through the Assisted Listening System (ALS) to those who are connected to it.
Do we really need a contractor to install a system?
You should have expert help, whether a consultant to advise you on how to install it yourself or a professional to do the whole job.
Do you know of churches in which good sound systems have been installed?
Grace Church, lower Manhattan, has a good sound system with a Telex FM Assistive Listening System (ALS) system in the church and meeting rooms and a ministry for monitoring and maintaining the receivers.
Someone mentioned CART. What is it and is it something we should get?
CART stands for Communication Access Realtime Translation. With CART, everything that is said is captioned live, like court reporting except what is said is displayed on a large screen. Your church may not have the funds for captioning services; CART is best used at large gatherings, particularly in places where the acoustics make it difficult to hear. It does not, however, take the place of sign language interpreters for people who are deaf and communicate with American Sign Language.
Is there an Episcopal Church source for any of the above information?
There is an Episcopal Disability Network. You may find that the information about some disabilities may be more complete than about others.
How much can I participate in the life of a church as a person with a disability?
You should be able to participate fully; you are not a disabled person, you are a person with a disability. You may have to break new ground; the Office of the Bishop is here to help. Contact Hannah Wilder.