Take a moment to think about your church. Is it accessible? Is it inclusive? Can someone in a wheelchair participate in the kids’ ministry games? Can someone with a psycho-social impairment play in the band? Can someone who is hard of hearing have a conversation over morning tea? Can someone with a vision impairment walk safely to the front of the church to take communion?
Accessibility isn’t simply about the physical environment of a church. There’s so much more going on. Far more than what we can see. Accessibility extends to the way that every element of the church is run – from morning sermons to weekly small groups.
What is programmatic accessibility?
Programmatic accessibility describes how people living with a disability can experience our churches’ programs and services. People with disabilities should be able to participate to the fullest of their ability and feel not just present – but a true sense of welcome and belonging.
To assess how our programs stack up, we should first question whether someone with disabilities can participate, and also, can they get involved and be part of running the program?
“In my church, there is a young teenager with intellectual disabilities who serves in the welcoming team alongside his mother and brother. The genuine warmth with which he greets people helps create a wonderful sense of welcome from the moment they step in the door.” – Katherine, NSW
Why should programs be inclusive?
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 Paul describes the church as being like a body: Every person in a congregation is a body part and relies on all the others to function well.
When we are convinced that every person has a vital role to play, it shifts our whole outlook. It’s not just good to include people with disabilities, it is good for everyone when we can all benefit from their contributions.
How can programs be made more accessible?
Change only ever happens one step at a time, so small achievable steps are the way to go.
Here are some ideas:
- Private homes are often difficult for people with disabilities, so change the location of some of your church’s small groups to the church building. With more suitable parking and bathroom facilities, someone may be able to join for the very first time.
- Ask someone with a disability to join the Welcome Team. This is a great way of modelling and demonstrating that people with disabilities are genuinely welcome in your church.
- COVID restrictions have taught us a lot about doing church digitally. Providing online access to programs or a hybrid online/offline approach may be more inclusive.
- People with disabilities may need a little flexibility when getting involved in music, leading, praying or preaching. They may need more time to get to the front or extra equipment such as seating, lighting or a lectern.
- Consider how social activities can be modified to include those with disabilities, e.g. large print instructions, meeting at an accessible café, choosing a camping accommodation that is accessible.
There are so many opportunities within churches for people to find value, significance and hope. With a little creative thinking and willingness to adapt, we can make a way for people with disabilities to have active and significant roles within our programs.
Simple changes are usually the best place to start. In consultation with people with disabilities, our church communities can become a welcoming, inclusive and accessible experience where everyone can thrive and experience all that God has for them.
Get motivated and take action in your church by watching our video Disability Inclusive Christian Communities, which is full of great ideas from people with disabilities about how you can create a more disability inclusive church.