Accessibility in the church - Eastern Canadian District
Accessibility in the church From a disability advocates perspective My daughter, Elizabeth, my reason for becoming a disability advocate Elizabeth Who am I ?
An active member of the United Church of Canada for most of my life; I am a wife and mother. We have a daughter, Elizabeth, with autism, two rare diseases (NF1 and EDS) and more, so I became a disability advocate. For 14 years, my two main jobs have been creating and running developmental, life skill and social programs for Elizabeth, and volunteering. I have held various positions on boards and leadership councils of charities for people with disabilities, including providing support
to families. Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Accessibility and barriers - How can faith communities better accommodate and engage people with disabilities? faith communities - distinguishing between the church as a building and the people and activities that are a part of your church. The physical building is not the only part of your
faith community that needs to be accessible. What is Accessibility Accessible - the ability to be reached or entered, easily understood or appreciated, and be used by people with a disability. accessibility is about removing barriers. barriers: anything that keeps a person with a disability from participating because of his or her disability.
fully in society What is a disability? The AODA uses the Ontario Human Rights Code definition of disability which is: any degree of physical disability, a condition of mental impairment a developmental disability What is a church? worship services AND all the other activities that
engage and bring people of faith together. we meet , greet and get to know one another through church activities. A person with a disability wants to be accepted and included simply for who they are Elizabeths favourite view at church What is inclusion? Inclusion is another part of accessibility. Attendance is about being able to go.
Inclusion is about fully participating, and having a sense of belonging. As people of faith we all want to believe that everyone that enters our church feels included but sadly that is definitely not always the case. Do people with disabilities attend church and if not, why? Surprising fact? : Many people said their
churches contain very minimal numbers of people with disabilities. I believe a large part of this lack of disabled members is due to barriers both physical and otherwise. On the wall of our church Lets make it happen Interacting and engaging at church
When do you get to know the people at church: before, during or after the service or is it through the other activities within the faith community? Engaging with others and Volunteering When, where and how can you engage and interact with a disabled person; get to know them better? Help them be more involved?
Interacting and engaging at church Could members provide support for the person with the disability? How does supporting a disabled person affect their whole family unit? Common barriers for the physically disabled attending Worship services disabled parking? Ramps? Automated doors? Flooring changes?
Seating for wheelchairs or a service animal? Options for the hearing impaired or vision impaired? Easy to reach hymn and prayer books Delivery of sacraments to the immobile Options regarding removal of shoes and/or kneeling for those who cant do that? Bathrooms to accommodate a wheelchair, walker or an attendant? For people with non physical disabilities barriers to attending worship are less obvious
attitudes about expected levels of behaviour Is there flexibility and knowledge on both sides. Education about disabilities is sadly lacking in many places including churches. Awareness of activities in the church beyond worship if worship is not an option Barriers to Volunteering during worship Accessible seating in the choir loft? Are the candles and pulpit on a raised Reachable from a wheelchair?
Our choir loft has risers. dias? Aisles wide enough to easily accommodate an usher in a wheelchair or walker? Where are the coffee time supplies located? Wher Where is it held?
Barriers to Volunteering during worship is there someone willing to help a person with a disability to volunteer? Instead of the WHO CAN rules reality should be HOW CAN ANYONE? Supporting a person with disabilities
Disabilities are diverse, the type and amount of support a disabled person needs varies greatly. Finding friendship and support within the church community What does it involve? as church members become familiar with the person with a disability, they become aware of their Supporting a person with disabilities Three fold benefit: Person with a disability has the ability to be
more involved around the church church members get to know and enjoy time with the person with a disability Family of the disabled person gets to enjoy and more fully participate when others are providing some support for the disabled person Disabled children and worship services Most people attend church as a family - can families with a disabled child do that and feel comfortable and get something out of the service?
Are children present for the whole service? that realistic for their disabled child? Is Our church lawn If the children go out during the worship service should the parents be assisting their disabled child in church school? When do those parents get their spiritual uplifting if they cannot attend the worship service?
Church school barriers to consider Physical location of classrooms ? Safety issues? Are teachers educated and comfortable having a disabled child? Pre-organized additional volunteers to help them? Are the curriculum and crafts adaptable? Disability education of the other children to increase acceptance and engagement? Thoughts for Gathering After worship
Is it announced that everyone is welcome? Where is the gathering held? Seating for the less mobile? Is there a table or countertop? Is there enough space for a wheelchair or walker to move around easily? introducing and engaging with the disabled and newcomers? Church picnic Considerations for Other Church Activities
Food at church ls the room and the food accessible? Is everyone invited? Potluck lunch Committees and social groups how and where do you meet? Could the activities, tasks and responsibilities be adapted? Transportation are there volunteer drivers? Other church Activities
Theres nothing better than feeling you are a part of things; that you can be and are engaged and useful and that your opinions and ideas matter. Being comfortable around disabilities People are generally less comfortable with people with mental health, behavioral, developmental and/or complex health issues than with people with physical disabilities. Acceptance is often about education and
exposure. Doing dishes at church Being comfortable around autism There is a growing volume of people on the autism spectrum Educating people about the unusual behaviours and attitudes that are common in autism so they can be more comfortable interacting with them.
I am lucky enough to be part of a church who has embraced providing support to families of children with autism. Opportunities within the church I hope that the people with disabilities who are currently trying to grow their roles within their faith communities can and will pave the The sky is the limit. way for those in the future.
Be their advocate and enabler. Help them achieve In Summary Accessibility is about any and all being able to fully participate Not all disabilities are alike. Removing barriers can be about being creative and
In Summary Education can go a long way in opening minds and creating engagement Accessibility is not just about spending money; it is also about finding willing hands and open hearts. In Summary Being recognized for your abilities and your
personality and engaging with others makes anyone feel good; but especially a person with a disability. Church is much more than just worship services. Everyone should be able to participate in any and all aspects and activities of their faith community.
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