Join the ABLE Ministry mailing list!
Sign up to get news delivered to your inbox monthly.
(Posted April 21st 2016 @ 12:20 PM by: Melody Reever)
This month I asked a few questions to our Facebook group. Special thanks to those who contributed to this topic: Kelsey, Michelle, Missi, Joann, Shannon, Amanda, Bethany, Catherine and Alysha. There are more than 550 members and many people who are knowledgeable in specific disabilities. Search for ABLE Ministry UPCI.
Q: How can we make our church welcoming to people who use a wheelchair?
A: Churches need wheelchair access. There should be a flat surface entrance. A manual chair can be popped backward over a small rise; however, a power chair cannot. Reserve parking spots close to the door for those in wheelchairs. If the parking lot is stone, it is very hard to navigate. Pouring even a small space of blacktop near a connecting walkway makes an incredible difference.
Many people do not attend on rainy days because of getting wet. It takes them much longer to exit the vehicle and get inside. In the perfect world, there would be a carport with an accessible ramp. Having a greeter available to meet them with an umbrella when it's raining helps a ton. This blesses the caregivers as well.
Be sure to hold meetings and fellowship functions in rooms with doors and levels accommodating to wheelchairs. Nothing is more embarrassing than arriving and finding you cannot get into the room. This applies to restaurants as well. Make sure there are no risers or steps inhibiting access. Often Sunday school and youth events are held in the lower level of churches. If there is a child or young adult who uses a wheelchair and there is no elevator, it might be necessary to move the class to a different area of the church.
Another need is transportation that accommodates walkers or wheelchairs. Often a walker or wheelchair will fold up and fit in a trunk. In the case where a person requires a van or special transportation, some cities provide transportation services for those with disabilities that can be set up. Be sure to investigate the cost. At times people with disabilities can have a limited income so providing free "bus passes" for these services can be a blessing.
Q: What about walkers or crutches? Anything we need to know?
A: When people offer help in opening a door, it is much appreciated.
Often the spacing in church seating doesn't allow for the placement of a walker. Taking out a chair to provide space for it or sitting in a shorter pew can be helpful. Our church has a "walker parking lot" area of our church for those who only use their walker on the way into church.
Q: What about during church service? Should we reserve a row up front?
A: Being "up front" can be very uncomfortable. It's a "bug on a microscope" feeling. If you have a short pew a few rows back, where people with a walker or wheelchair can blend in, they feel so much more comfortable. Some people have a designated spot in the sanctuary so they don't have to weave through the crowds.
Q: There is someone in our church who is in a wheelchair but they never go up front during altar service. Why is that?
A: Many times they do not go to the front during altar call because they become claustrophobic with everyone towering over them. Don't assume they are not praying just because they are in the back. Go to where they are and pray with them. Be respectful of someone sitting in the back just as you would someone who is standing at the altar.
Q: What else do we need to know about individuals using wheelchairs or walkers?
A: People tend to avoid these individuals just because they look different. Treat them the way you want to be treated. People with disabilities feel very singled out, especially if people stare and don't greet or smile back. In my case (as a person with a disability), many people looked past me as if I wasn't there. People wouldn't look me in the eye.
When you talk to someone in a wheelchair, don't stand up. Some neck injuries make it impossible or painful to look upwards. In conversation, sit down at their eye level whenever possible. Please be sure to include them in after-service fellowship; be the first to approach them and pull up a chair.
For those in manual wheelchairs, it is very rude to start pushing their wheelchair without asking. It takes away their ability to choose where they are going and can feel very intrusive.