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Why Be Accessible?

Way to Make Your Parish Accessible

Accessibility Resources

Accessibility Survey

Awareness Poster

Who Are People with Disabilities?

Relating to People with Disabilities

Accessible Congregations

Worship Service Books

Ushers: Ministers of Hospitality


Information for Congregations


These two surveys can help you evaluate how accessible your parish is to people with disabilities.

Accessibility Survey (Survey #1) ATTITUDE

There are no barriers to belonging to the community of faith that the people of God cannot overcome.

What price would you be willing to pay to become part of a church community? Would you be willing to face ridicule, rejection and inaccessibility? Would you be willing to fight misunderstandings and devaluing remarks from others? Would you be willing to suffer the humiliation of being carried up and down stairs in a wheelchair?

It is estimated that up to 15% of people experience some form of disability. The rest are only temporarily able-bodied. Four out of five people will likely become disabled in their lifetime due to mental difficulties, physical disabilities, hearing loss or severe visual impairment.

Ninety percent of people with disabilities are not active in church. They find the price of church participation high. This is largely due to our lack of understanding and awareness. Persons with disabilities desire what others desire: to be part of a caring, loving community of faith.

When one persons needs or gifts are ignored, that person is automatically isolated. When buildings are structurally inaccessible, those using wheelchairs or having limited mobility are left outside. When the word is spoken only, those with hearing problems are denied the message. And when literature is distributed, those who cannot read or see are left in the dark. Those barriers can be overcome by the people of God if they desire it and if they learn of the changes needed. The process begins with the recognition that the church needs the gifts of persons with disabilities, even as such persons need the nurture of the church.

Some of the toughest barriers to overcome in relating to disabled persons are our attitudes that too often are shaped by fear based on lack of information. To become knowledgeable we must get to know disabled persons and invite them to participate with us in the church. The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference, and that can be a deadly attitude.

Use this checklist to begin building awareness.

Yes No
__ __ 1. Who are the persons in our congregation with disabilities?
__ __ 2. How many persons in our congregation are inactive because of disabilities or attitudes toward them?
__ __ 3. How are we dealing with the fear of disabilities and our discomfort with disabled persons?
__ __ 4. Are persons with disabilities welcome in our congregation?
__ __ 5. Do we perceive persons with disabilities as created in the image of God?
__ __ 6. Are persons with disabilities given opportunities to serve the church?
__ __ 7. Are we learning that disability does not have to mean inability, liability, inferiority, weakness and dependency?
__ __ 8. Do we expect persons in our congregation to participate in the life of the church as much as they are able?
__ __ 9. Would our congregation accept as a pastor one who has physical disabilities?
__ __ 10. Are persons with disabilities invited to have active roles in worship?
__ __ 11. Is transportation available for those who are disabled or for elderly persons who do not drive?


Communication is the interchange of thoughts, ideas and feelings. Communication becomes a barrier when we fail to communicate understandably. Words must be seen or heard or felt to be understood. Different methods are needed for different disabilities. Listening is a second critical element in communication. We are enriched when we take time to listen to the pain, courage, sensitivity and spiritual insights that disabled persons have to share.

Yes No
__ __ 1. Large print hymnals are available in our church to those who wish to use them.
__ __ 2. Worship services are available on cassettes or videotape.
__ __ 3. Amplification aids are available to those who are hard of hearing.
__ __ 4. Interpreters are available for the deaf. (this may be done in combination with other congregations.)
__ __ 5. Sermons are available in print for hard of hearing and deaf persons.
__ __ 6. In addition to the spoken word, the biblical message in our church is presented visually, dramatically and musically.
__ __ 7. Books on disabilities that provide awareness and information are in our church library.
__ __ 8. Our Christian education department includes children with disabilities in regular or special classes where they are taught about Gods love.
__ __ 9. We are committed to listening to the concerns, needs and desires of persons with disabilities.


If attitudes are positive, but the building itself inhibits or prevents entrance or participation in worship, education and fellowship of the church, then significant barriers remain. Having four strong men carry a person in a wheelchair up the stairs to the sanctuary is not a solution but a humiliation. Making no provision for hard-of-hearing and deaf people, or blind persons and persons with mental retardation is a way of saying, You're not welcome here.

Use this checklist as a beginning way to evaluate your church meeting space. Determine how accessible your church already is and what changes remain to be made.

A. Parking/Walks

Yes No
__ __ 1. Are clearly marked accessible parking spaces close to the church building?
__ __ 2. Can one get from a parked car into the building without going up or down steps?
__ __ 3. Are walks at least 48 inches wide with a gradient no greater than 5%?
__ __ 4. Do walks have a level platform at the door that is 5 feet x 5 feet and extends at least 1 foot beyond each side of the door?

B. Ramps/Stairs

Yes No
__ __ 1. Do ramps have a slope no greater than 1 foot rise in 12 feet and a width of no less than 36 inches?
__ __ 2. Do ramps have handrails on at least one side 32 inches above the surface?
__ __ 3. Do ramps have level platforms in front of doors that have at least 5 feet of straight clearance?
__ __ 4. Are ramps protected from rain and winter icing?
__ __ 5. Do steps avoid abrupt nosing?
__ __ 6. Do stairs have handrails on both sides 32 inches high as measured from the tread at the face of the riser?
__ __ 7. Are open stairs provided with a means of warning blind persons of their existence, such as slightly raised abrasive strips at the approach?

C. Doors/Doorways

Yes No
__ __ 1. Do doors have a clear opening of 32 inches or more?
__ __ 2. Are doors operable by a single effort? Note: Double doors are not usable by many with disabilities unless they operate by single effort, or unless one door is 32 inches wide.
__ __ 3. Are doors operable with pressure (81 pounds or less) that could reasonable be expected from disabled persons?
__ __ 4. Do doors with latch hardware have lever or other easy grip handles?

D. Worship Space

Yes No
__ __ 1. Are there seating spaces with extra leg room for disabled persons with crutches, walkers, braces or casts?
__ __ 2. Are at least two seats provided for wheelchair users? Note: Several pews could be shortened by 36 inches.
__ __ 3. Is the chancel area accessible to disabled persons to speak or sing in the choir?
__ __ 4. Does lighting (windows, stained glass, etc.) behind the speaker avoid glare?
__ __ 5. Is there adequate lighting everywhere in the sanctuary?

E. Restrooms

Yes No
__ __ 1. Is there at least one accessible toilet on each floor?
__ __ 2. Are towel dispensers mounted no higher than 40 inches from the floor?
__ __ 3. Do toilet rooms have turning space 5 feet x 5 feet to allow traffic of individuals in wheelchairs?
__ __ 4. Is there at least one toilet stall that is at least 36 inches wide, 48 inches clear depth from door closing to front of commode and a 32 inch door that swings out?
__ __ 5. Does toilet stall have grab bars on each side?
__ __ 6. Is there a sink wall mounted with 29 inches of clearance from floor to bottom of sink?
__ __ 7. Are faucet controls easy to operate, requiring no difficult finger or hand action?

F. Water Fountains

Yes No
__ __ 1. Is there at least one water fountain accessible to people in wheelchairs?
__ __ 2. Is the water fountain mounted with basin no more than 36 inches from the floor?
__ __ 3. Are the water fountains easily hand operated?

G. Elevators

Yes No
__ __ 1. If your church is multi-story, does it have an elevator or chair lift usable by persons who are physically disabled?
__ __ 2. Are all controls 54 inches or less from floor?
__ __

3. Is there a handrail on at least one side 32 inches from floor?

Accessibility Survey (Survey #2)

Adapted from a survey developed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lansing, Michigan

Download this survey in Microsoft Word Format

An accessible parish community is one where all persons are truly welcome into the social, educational and liturgical life of the community of faith. In other words, an accessible parish has accessible buildings, accessible programs and, most importantly, an accessible heart.

Accessible buildings Persons with physical or sensory disabilities can easily enter and are comfortable in the church and other buildings.

Accessible programs Eucharistic liturgies, prayer services, educational and social events are conducted in a way that makes possible the full participation of persons with disabilities. This could include large print hymnals, sign language interpreters, assistive hearing devices and a number of other accommodations.

Accessible hearts This refers to a community that welcomes all persons. They see first a member of the Body of Christ and then a person with a disability. Ways in which a parish community can show that it has an accessible heart include a stated policy of welcome, trained greeters and an informed congregation prepared to welcome persons with disabilities.


Yes No
Are there sufficient handicap parking spaces for persons with disabilities? ___ ___
Is there at least one primary entrance to the church accessible for mobility impaired parishioners? ___ ___
Are the aisles and seating arrangements accessible for people using wheelchairs, crutches, etc.? ___ ___
Is the sanctuary accessible, for example, ramp to the altar, so that mobility impaired parishioners can serve as liturgical ministers? ___ ___
Is an accessible restroom located in the church complex? ___ ___
Are parish meeting and social event sites accessible? ___ ___
Is an accessible restroom located near the social and meeting sites? ___ ___
Are the parish offices accessible? ___ ___
Is an amplification system available for persons with hearing impairments? ___ ___
Are sign language interpreters provided for liturgical and parish functions? ___ ___




a. The parish offices, social hall and meeting sites are fully accessible.

b. The staff and leaders of the parish are trained in knowledge of and sensitivity to persons with disabilities.

c. Consultation with those with disabilities occurs in determining their needs in terms of parish facilities, programs, policies and ministries.

d. Pastoral ministries feature a welcoming attitude and include qualified persons with disabilities.




a. Assistance such as large print or Braille hymnals, assistive listening devices and interpreters for the deaf are provided as needed.

b. The church complex, including seating arrangements and parking lot, is fully accessible.

c. The sanctuary is accessible so that mobility impaired parishioners can serve as liturgical ministers.

d. Deaf parishioners are invited and encouraged to serve as liturgical ministers. EDUCATION



a. Religious education sites are physically accessible for students with disabilities.

b. The religious education programs are conducted with "reasonable accommodations" so that persons with disabilities can receive a Christian education.

c. Sacramental preparation programs are designed to prepare persons with mental disabilities for those sacraments to which they have a right.




a. The parish census addresses disability concerns.

b. Greeters and ushers are trained to respond with sensitivity to persons with disabilities.

c. The publicity of programs, meetings, etc., includes notice of accessibility.




a. A member of the Social Ministry Commission is designated to be responsible for the concerns of parishioners with disabilities.


Are persons with disabilities invited to serve as lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, users, altar servers, and other places of service?

Are persons with disabilities involved in the parish school as students or teachers?

Are persons with disabilities invited to participate in Religious Education and Youth Ministry activities?

Are adults with disabilities invited to join parish groups or join adult education programs?

Does the parish census or registration form ask for information regarding family members with disabilities?

Are the residents of group homes, nursing homes and other special facilities considered in parish plans?

What is the response of the parish when a family has a member born with a disability?

What type of long term support does the parish extend to families of persons with disabilities?

Is the parish staff knowledgeable about persons with disabilities and their needs?

Does the parish have a stated policy of welcome for persons with disabilities?

Parish Policy of Welcome

This Policy of Welcome is from St. Joseph Parish in Kalamazoo.

St. Joseph Parish affirms the dignity and value of each and every person. So that our behavior may model our convictions and ideals, we will strive to enhance the ability of all persons to develop and utilize their gifts and to participate fully in the activities, worship and ministries of the Parish. St. Joseph Parish will attempt to remove barriers and impede full access to such participation.


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Disability Awareness Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan
The Rev. Chuck Swinehart chswinehart@gmail.com


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