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Congregational Accommodations for Disabilities

We Bid You Welcome

We bid you welcome, who enter this hall as a homecoming,
Who have found here room for your spirit.
Who find in this people a family.
Whoever you are, whatever you are,
Wherever you are in your journey.
We bid you welcome.
—Richard S. Gilbert (Singing The Living Tradition, Reading 442)

Our hymnal speaks these moving words. Yet how our congregations are able to bid people welcome depends on many things—in part, on how and when our individual churches were built. Almost all of our Unitarian Universalist churches were constructed before the Americans with Disabilities Act, before there was consciousness about making churches physically accessible to everybody—whether that person walked or wheeled in. In fact, our older churches were inaccessible by design:

"Ralph Adams Cram, renowned ecclesiastical architect and critic of American church design, identified the elevation of sacred space as central to the practice of faith. According to Cram, places of worship... were to be spiritual oases, set apart from their pedestrian environment through substantial, soaring walls and monumental stairs approaching impressive entrances well above the street.

"Unfortunately, our legacy is daunting stairs, heavy doors, and soaring walls. Much as our hearts may want to welcome everyone to enter our halls 'as a homecoming' the reality is that we are sometimes confronted with architectural designs that make hospitality a difficult undertaking, to say the least."

The quote above is from a 54-page online publication Accessible Faith (PDF, 58 pages): A Technical Guide for Accessibility in Houses of Worship. In the Environment section, we will be making frequent reference to this booklet, well worth downloading if you are planning or hoping to make physical changes in your congregational environment.

There is a saying in the Disability Community "Nothing about us without us." For any accessibility planning, we encourage you to contact your local Independent Living Center. Independent Living Centers are non-residential, non-profit, consumer-controlled, community-based organizations providing services and advocacy by and for people with disabilities. They have expert staff, and can help you with your assessment and discussion of changes.

Remember, everyone whether they live with a disability or not, is unique. Therefore, it is impossible to make universal decisions about what accommodations will be completely welcoming to everyone. As with all reciprocal relationships, it is always important and appropriate to ask the people being welcomed what will work for them.

The accessibility audits in this section were created with many thanks to the United Methodist Church, who permitted us to freely use material from their comprehensive accessibility manual, Accessibility Audit for Churches, 2nd edition, edited by the Rev. Kathy N. Reeves.

Accessibility in Congregational Life

Our congregations are rich with activities that bring us together into community. Our newsletters tell us about choir rehearsals, potluck dinners, church picnics board of trustees meetings, Volunteer Appreciation Day, Women's Alliance luncheons, Our Whole Lives classes, Caring Circle gatherings, Coming of Age overnights...

Unitarian Universalists are on a journey toward a faith community that welcomes and affirms all people, a faith community that invites people with disabilities to participate fully—in all of the activities we post in our church calendars.

We can learn a lot by finding out how other congregations are doing this work, and we can discover resources that will help on the journey toward creating a truly accessible faith community.

  • Begin with the Accessibilities Committee's video "A Call to Action."
  • Read other congregations' inclusive mission statements and bylaws, and other inclusive documents.
  • Share your documents and experiences with us.
  • Send materials about ways to create inclusive congregational life.

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, September 14, 2011.

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