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Inside the Building: Accessibility Guidelines

Descriptive information and ADA requirements about accessibility and elevators, lifts, stairs, doorways and thresholds can be found in Accessible Faith: A Technical Guide in Houses of Worship (PDF, 54 pages: see pages 14-21).

Stairs can be made safer and easier to use by people who have limited balance, stamina, or vision by making sure that: there are sturdy railings on both sides of the stairway.

Lighting is very important. Make sure that there is adequate, but glare-free, lighting all along the stairway as well as at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Marking the edges of each step with a strip of contrasting paint will help people see where the edge of each step is.

If a staircase is carpeted, don't use carpet that has a pattern or is visually complex. It can be visually confusing to people.

A chairlift is not a good solution, despite the temptation to install one because of its relatively low cost. The only positive comment made by churches with chairlifts is that they are an attractive feature to advertise when renting out space for weddings.

Doors, doorways, and thresholds can make accessibility impossible or awkward, sometimes, despite measurements that match the ADA-mandated dimensions. Ask people who use wheelchairs and scooters to evaluate the space. Ask your local Independent Living Centers.

Replace doorknobs with lever door handles, check that light switches are reachable—all this can best be assessed by a person sitting in a wheelchair or scooter.

If you have a water fountain that is not accessible to someone sitting in a wheelchair, install a paper cup dispenser at wheelchair accessible height. But make sure that the cups are reachable, and that a person sitting in a wheelchair can use the fountain to fill a cup with water.

There is a good discussion of lighting in Accessible Faith: A Technical Guide in Houses of Worship (PDF, 54 pages: see pages 29-31).

Keep in mind the difficulty some people with electrical sensitivities have with fluorescent lighting. Some large public buildings are reverting to incandescent or halogen lighting, in part, because of people's sensitivity to fluorescents.

Acoustics are often a problem. Hard walls, uncarpeted floors, and minimal draperies, can create an acoustically difficult environment for people who are hard of hearing."Softening" the environment may help. Ask people with hearing problems if they have suggestions. Contact your local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Although most of our buildings use low-pile carpeting, keep in mind that high-pile carpeting is more difficult for people using wheelchairs and walkers.

When buying new carpet, make sure that you buy environmentally-friendly carpeting, and that carpets are tacked rather than glued down, or that non-toxic adhesive is used, as well as non-toxic carpet padding.

It's easy to install a lower coat-rack for people who use wheelchairs and scooters. It's just one of those things that make people feel welcomed, and not hard to do. Also have low hooks in the accessible bathroom stall for coat and bag.

Use fragrance-free, hypoallergenic cleaning supplies. Recommendations are listed in the resource section.

How People Can Be Welcoming Inside the Building

Don't wear body scents. We know it's a big part of our culture, and wearing fragrance may be an important part of your personality—and some of us are very appreciative. Unfortunately, others of us are very allergic to the chemicals that we are laden with—even if you are wearing natural, organic essential oils. Please see Multiple Chemical Sensitivities for some of the reasons why we are asking you to forego your personal scent when you're coming here.

You might want to consider switching to unscented laundry and personal products too. As our environment worsens and more people become hyper-sensitive to the chemicals that bombard us, scent-free products are becoming easier to purchase.

Using a scooter or wheelchair and trying to get around inside a building when there are people gathered in social discourse—well, it's hard. One person we know has contemplated installing some sort of cow-catcher on the front of her scooter—like those that the old-fashioned trains used to push buffaloes out of the way on the prairie. You are not a buffalo; you are a welcoming person. When you notice someone in a scooter or wheelchair trying to get through a group of people—please, move out of the way, and please indicate to others in the pathway that a person, who needs a wider pathway and who can't tap you on the shoulder, is trying to get through in a scooter or wheelchair.

For more information contact access @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.

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