Getting Into Church: Accessibility Guidelines

Parking Lots

  • Parking areas should be well-lit, uneven surfaces should be avoided, and other tripping hazards (such as poorly illuminated low-edging around parking lot plantings) should be eliminated.
  • Parking lots should be as flat and even as possible (not on a hill or grade).
  • There are federal guidelines for accessible parking spaces. Sometimes, there are stricter local rules—you will want to follow your local rules. Check with your local Planning and Zoning Commission.
  • You may find that there may be more people with limited mobility than there are accessible parking spaces. Consider valet parking as a possible solution.
  • As you plan accessible parking spaces, make sure that people getting out of their cars and vans do not have to cross a place where cars drive . A person should not have to contend with traffic to get from the car/van to the curb cut that brings them to a sidewalk.


  • You have your accessible parking spaces clearly marked. Make sure to provide plentiful signs with arrows along pathways, so people can easily locate the accessible path and entrance. You are proud of your accessibility work—mark it clearly with universal accessibility signage.
  • Provide adequate lighting between parking areas and entrances. Many people do not see well at night.
  • You know how helpful the white stripe at the edge of a highway is when we drive at night? A stripe of white paint along the edge of the sidewalk does the same thing—it can help us delineate the path at night.
  • Keep in mind that people who have balance or walking difficulties, or who use crutches, canes, or walkers, are particularly sensitive to slipping and tripping hazards. Check for uneven sidewalks.
  • As well as clearing the pathway of ice and snow, keep the surface free from tree fruits/seeds, twigs, dead leaves and other debris.
  • Even if the distance between parking lot and the building seems flat and reasonable in length, keep in mind that it may be a tiring journey for someone who has poor stamina. Taking climate and your property into account, provide benches or other seating to rest on along the way.

Outdoor Entrances

  • Use professionals to plan your ramp. Amateurs can make mistakes, such as (these are comments from UU churches): If you build a concrete ramp against a wooden building, the wood will rot. If you build a ramp in warm weather, without paying attention to the way the roof slants, come winter, you may have snow avalanching onto the ramp.
  • Ramp consultations are available through many Independent Living Centers.
  • We've heard many stories about how the week after the ramp was completed, a board member sustained an injury and needed to use the ramp for the two months she was using a wheelchair.
  • We've also heard stories about how pleased parents were to find easy ramp access to the building without having to take their babies and toddlers out of their strollers.
  • While the 1:12 ramp (1 inch rise per 12 inches of run (horizontal distance)) is fairly standard, and there are 1:10 ramp requirements in existing buildings, these are steep ramps. The closer to 1:20 your ramp is, the easier it is to navigate for people using walkers and manual wheelchairs.
  • Check out the temporary ramps built by the Minnesota Ramp Project. It might be just the thing for you to do as a temporary measure. According to the Minnesota Project Director, although meant to be residential, this ramp-building method has been used by churches. It might also be a volunteer project to undertake for a congregant's home.
  • Automatic door openers are not that expensive and may be the answer to your accessibility need.
  • Many older churches have heavy doors, some of which also have handles that are difficult to open. You may find your ramp ends at a door that is unopenable by some people. If you cannot replace your outer doors to meet ADA standards, then have a greeter stationed to open the door for people. Always having greeters at every door is important, especially if the accessible entrance is in back or on the side.

How People Can Be Welcoming at the Building Entrance

  • Do not park in an accessible parking space if you do not have a disabled parking tag or license plate—not even when the parking lot is full and the only available space is an accessible space.
  • Part of a congregation's accessibility journey is to understand and respect the use of accessible parking spaces. Invite a person from your local Independent Living Center to be part of a service, meeting, or workshop about accessible parking, accessible transportation and other community issues.
  • Everybody should wear name-tags printed in large, legible letters. Congregants with memory problems often drop out because they cannot remember the names of people they know and are embarrassed. Name tags solve that problem and can be worn for every occasion, until they become part of a congregation's culture.
  • Lack of knowledge about how to act can lead to uneasiness when meeting a person who has a disability. An understanding of "disability etiquette" will dispel discomfort for greeters and ushers, and this understanding should be communicated as part of greeter and usher training.