When connecting with a church, there are many things to think about. What’s the style of music? Is there a kids’ ministry program? Is communion every week?
These are all valid queries!
But for people with disabilities, there are many more questions to consider. Starting with: Can I even get into the building?
Is yours a disability-friendly church? If you’re not sure, read on for our brief breakdown of accessibility in churches.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility is about making physical spaces, programs, and activities usable and meaningful for as many people as possible. For people with disabilities accessibility can facilitate meaningful participation. Have you noticed any physical barriers in your church? Barriers to disability inclusion can include:
- Physical barriers like steps, narrow doorways, dim lighting, and cluttered walkways. Communication barriers like information only in written format and a lack of Auslan interpreters.
- Attitudinal barriers like negative assumptions about people with disabilities ability or capacity to participate in a church activity or service.
- Institutional barriers like discriminatory policies and practices that can exclude people with disabilities from becoming church leaders.
Barriers like these aren’t often noticed – or even thought about – by most church goers. However, just one of these barriers can prevent people with disabilities from feeling welcome or getting involved in your church.
“It’d be wonderful if people with lived experience could be factored into worship in the service, to share their insights and experience and the way that their own journey intersects with the faith of the broader community.” – Graeme Turner, historian, writer, poet and person with a vision impairment
Why is accessibility important?
The Bible paints a vibrant picture of Jesus’ interactions with those he meets. Jesus welcomes children. He welcomes sinners. He welcomes widows, vulnerable and marginalised people of all kinds.
What’s especially prominent is the way Jesus welcomes people with disabilities (e.g., Mark:7, Luke:14, John:9). Jesus, demonstrating disability inclusion, shows us how to value and engage with people with disabilities.
As the body of Christ, we must follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Practicing disability inclusion and improving accessibility ensures our churches are important places of welcome and belonging.
With almost 1 in 5 Australians living with a disability, (17.8% of the population), it is essential that church accessibility improves, so that all are able to meaningfully participate as God’s gathered people. And then, our churches won’t miss out on the amazing gifts, talents or perspectives of people with disabilities.
How can I make my church more accessible?
To build a more accessible, disability-friendly church, we all need to understand how what we say, do and build in our churches can include, rather than exclude, people with disabilities.
CBM’s Luke14 initiative has resources and information available to help your church think through these questions and begin, step by step, to make your church more accessible.
Don’t forget, you already have one of the most important resources: your congregation.
People with disabilities who are connected to your church already know the barriers that limit their involvement. They may have experience and ideas to help your church become more accessible.
Together with God’s transforming and restorative power, your church can become a place where all people are loved and welcomed in Jesus’ name.
Keep learning how to make your church more accessible
Download our Church Accessibility Quick Checklist and make a disability inclusion plan today.
Watch Graeme’s story about faith, disability inclusion and the church.