Canadian legislation such as the Ontarians with Disabilities Act and various community-based initiatives foster increasing accessibility and involvement in Canadian society. In contrast, churches and other religious institutions are among some of the most resistant to promote accessibility. This is generally not motivated by malice or disrespect but rather a less formal attitude toward the law, the misconception of accessibility causing financial strain, a desire to maintain tradition, a lack of awareness or interaction with various populations or paralysis caused by being overwhelmed with various needs. Regardless of the reason behind it, such hesitancy sends the wrong message. The church should be leading in terms of accessibility because Jesus welcomed all. Furthermore, it is truly disheartening when places like the mall appear to be more welcoming to people of all abilities then ‘God’s house’
Thankfully, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (worship.calvin.edu) has been learning a lot about how Christian congregations can stretch to embrace the gifts of all God’s children across the spectrum of ability and disability, with thanks to the leadership of Barbara J. Newman and the CLC Network (based in Grand Rapids, Michigan) for their passion and wisdom. Resources that have already been developed are especially valuable as they are not strictly focused on physical or developmental adaptations but offer a variety of suggestions for various needs in various aspects of church life with room for customization to your unique faith community.
- Barbara Newman’s video presentation which casts the vision of universal design for worship;
- Worship as One: Disability in Community, the inspirational video by CLC Network that tells the stories of some local congregations;
- The CLC Network’s ‘Role-based Tips’ for congregations, which invite people in many roles in congregations to take next steps;
- A web showcase of related resources; and
- Posters from two Vital Worship Grant Program grantees that share learning from year-long projects on this topic.
Some people think of accessibility in all or nothing terms but there is nothing to suggest that it should not develop gradually. You may be more productive if you think of developing accessibility step-by-step. You can encourage members of your congregation by celebrating every improvement because while there may always be room to grow, each step may enrich someone’s experience of God through your community and accessibility will hopefully become part of your faith culture over time.
CLC Network notes that “No matter what part you play in your congregation, you can help to widen the welcome in your congregation for persons at all levels of ability and disability.” It is also important to remember that most if not all accessibility adaptations including, but not limited to, large print materials, hearing devices, extra space, fidget tools etc. often benefit many with and without disabilities.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).