Man in wheelchair sits in the aisleway of a church during a service

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Some Churches Are Slow To Embrace the ADA

Some Churches Are Slow to Embrace the ADA

Millions of people in the United States have spiritual needs that are not being met because their churches, synagogues, meetinghouses, mosques, or temples aren't accessible to persons with disabilities. It seems ironic that the very thing that can help us cope with a disability, our faith, can be out of our reach.

"I don't go to church anymore," my friend explained. "Well, I don't go to church. I can't hear anything when I'm there, and the stone steps in front are hard for me to manage."

She continued, "I now attend one of those new arena churches that my granddaughter likes. There is plenty of handicapped parking, and headphones so I can hear the whole service. I use the small elevator if I take my walker. Church members greet you at the door and ask how they can assist you, hanging up your coat or giving you a service bulletin. I really miss my pastor and congregation, but it wasn't a place where I could get around comfortably."

"There are no barriers to God's love; there should be no barriers to God's House."

Does the ADA Apply to Churches or Other Places of Worship?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 offers no relief in making places of worship accessible. It guarantees that people with disabilities won't be denied employment or promotion because of their disabilities. It also promises accessibility for transportation to services and public accommodations such as restaurants, museums, libraries, parks, daycare centers, doctors' offices, hotels, schools, and retail stores, but not houses of worship.

Religious leaders need to respond to the spirit of the law, which is to include all people and welcome all people, something our faiths seem to embody. Many places of worship have tried to address accessibility challenges, but sometimes are slow to make changes because costs are prohibitive. Some church boards make decisions to spend their limited budgets on other church needs because they cannot justify making changes for a handful of worshippers. But all need to be welcome.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the ADA. It looks like this is one accessibility issue that's yet to be crossed. Even with a BraunAbilityEntervan or Rampvan, there's no point in getting to a church if you can't open the door and join the congregation.

What about the rest of you? Have you been denied access to your place of worship due to closed minds or poor construction? Any advice for those facing this unfortunate obstacle to faith?