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One woman’s personal experience, suggestionscomment (0)

January 1, 2004

Sandra Wilkerson, a member of Gateway Baptist Church, Montgomery, found out that she had multiple sclerosis more than 26 years ago.
Wilkerson, former Baptist campus minister to Judson College in Marion and Auburn University at Montgomery, has been dependent on a wheelchair for mobility.
She knows firsthand the problems that inaccessible church building designs can cause disabled people and actively serves as a spokesperson for disabled individuals everywhere.
The following are tips that she recommends to churches to aid the disabled.
1. Those who are disabled are not necessarily wheelchair confined, thus parking spaces or sloped curbs at a church should not be a long way from entrances. To qualify for a handicapped parking space, a person must have a “mental or physical handicap which limits mobility to the extent that the individual would have difficulty safely walking alone a distance of 50 feet or more,” according to the Alabama Department of Revenue, Motor Vehicle Division.
2. A covered drive-through overhang is ideal for loading and unloading. No one likes to sit in a rain-soaked wheelchair, Wilkerson explained. Another way to help those with a disability deal with rain is to use greeters with large golf/beach umbrellas. This is a great service because it is difficult to use a cane, hold an umbrella and juggle a Bible or personal items.
3. A church facility’s door widths need to accommodate a wheelchair as required by government standards for a new building, but the doors both outside and inside are much too heavy for a helper to open and at the same time guide a wheelchair through. Disabled persons on their own, even with  motorized wheelchairs/ scooters are unable to open a door and get through it before it closes. The best kind of door is one that can be activated by pressing a button outside. Better yet would be adding a warm and friendly greeter.
4. Some slopes or ramps are graded so steeply that even powered wheelchairs/scooters labor to get up them. It would be even tougher with a manual wheelchair with or without an assistant.
5. If there is a multi-level building or more than one floor in a church facility, there needs to be an elevator. With an elevator, there needs to be an emergency plan in place with two or more strong people to carry the disabled person down stairwell exits in the event of a fire, tornado, power outage, etc.
6. Intersections of hallways as well as layout and size of rooms need to allow for an adequately wide turning radius for power scooters and wheelchairs, especially those where feet are elevated.
7. A minimum of one private family (unisex) restroom that allows a person and a helper who needs to assist a disabled partner, or a parent with a child (even adult age) of the opposite sex.
8. If the church facility has pews some need to have cutouts or shorter rows for a wheelchair at the end, preferably in the middle of the sanctuary rather than all the way in the back or front, thus allowing a disabled person to feel more a part of the congregation as well as less self-conscious or conspicuous.
9. Overhead screens for music or PowerPoint sermon outlines, etc., need to be high enough that someone sitting can see them especially if congregations stand for music. Another solution would be to provide song sheets or sermon outlines.
10. A special section for the deaf with interpreters should be offered during worship services. There needs to be a team of people who can sign as well as earphones for those hard of hearing.
11. Every church needs to have at least one easily accessible church-owned and labeled wheelchair for emergency use for anyone who may need assistance down long hallways in big buildings, etc. (TAB)Why consider accessibility?

--Accessibility to church buildings will help people in the community know that your congregation desires to include all people who desire to worship with you.

--Eighteen percent of the people in an average community have disabilities (U.S. Census, 1990). This means that on average, 18 percent of the people in the area surrounding your church have a disability of one kind or another.

--Not all churches are accessible. More people and families in your community will know that your church is accessible if you place the symbols in your ad.

--Renovations to provide physical access to your church will give a favorable impression to your community, whether they have a disability or not.

Source: Center for Religion and Disability

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