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Leader Resource 7: Welcoming Participants Who Have Mobility Concerns

In the US, 1.4 million people use scooters or wheelchairs. Millions more people use crutches, walkers, braces, or canes to help them get around. People may use different mobility aids at different times. Someone who uses a wheelchair or scooter may or may not also be able to walk. Someone who uses a cane or walker one day may use a wheelchair on another day.

The following suggestions refer primarily to the room in which your workshop will be presented. Your congregation's environment beyond that room makes a significant difference to participants who use mobility aids. The presence or absence of accessible restrooms, ramps, elevators, curb cuts, accessible public transportation, and accessible parking will affect members' ability to participate in your workshops.

Physical/Personal Suggestions

  • If your meeting room's door doesn't stay open on its own, hold the door open for someone using a mobility device to pass through.
  • Always ask a person who uses a mobility device what he/she would prefer for seating, writing, seat position, and anything else that might be of concern. Asking is better than assuming.
  • Keep mobility devices within reach of their users: do not reposition a walker, crutches, or cane without explicit permission, even if it seems to be "in the way."
  • Only push, lean on, or touch a person's wheelchair if asked or given explicit permission. A wheelchair is part of a person's personal space.
  • Make sure that participants know the location of your site's accessible restroom(s).
  • When participants divide into small groups, pay attention to the process to ensure that people with mobility limitations can stay in their original places if they want to, or can move unobstructed to a new place.
  • If you are creating a circle around the chalice for your opening or closing, expand or reconfigure the circle so you can easily include people with mobility limitations.
  • Be attentive to the location of people with mobility devices. Sometimes, during breaks, or when workshop participants are moving around, people using mobility devices get "stuck" in a crowd. Create a welcoming environment by paying attention to the flow of movement in the room and intervening when anyone seems blocked.

Environmental Suggestions

  • Learn the location of accessible restrooms, water-fountains, elevators, ramps.
  • If the accessible entrance to your building is not the main entrance, before each workshop make certain that the door is unlocked and snow, ice, debris and other obstructions are removed.
  • Before each workshop, check that the paths to accessible restrooms, refreshments, and handouts are not obstructed by items such as trash cans, cleaning supplies, or coat racks.
  • If you are arranging seating in a circle, make sure there is space for a wheelchair to enter and join the circle.
  • Make sure that aisles are wide enough and that there is a variety of seating options — chairs with and without arms, room at tables for wheelchairs, etc.
  • Have seating spaced so there is extra legroom for people using crutches, braces, walkers, or casts.

Communications Suggestions

  • Model inclusive language when giving instructions to stand: "Rise in body or spirit" is preferred; or use "Stand as you are willing and able."
  • Ask "May I help?" when wanting to be helpful. And if given permission to help, then ask "How may I help" or "What would you like me to do?" Unsolicited assistance can be experienced as rude or intrusive.
  • People who use wheelchairs are appropriately referred to as "wheelchair users," never as "wheelchair bound" or "confined to a wheelchair".
  • Relax and smile! Everybody responds to a smile and a warm "hello".

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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