Providing for Disabilities
This page provides some basics for enabling people with disabilities to participate fully in their community. Read through the Frequently Asked Questions, (FAQs) to learn about the special needs of people with disabilities. Some accommodations (such as an accessible bathroom or elevator) are costly, but many (such as higher wattage light bulbs or large-print bulletins) have a minimal price tag. Tap the list of Resources available to parishes for information, advice, and mentoring.
The best way to begin providing access to a parish is to speak to the person(s) with a disability
Frequently Asked Questions
What constitutes a “disability”?
An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment. For more information go to www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm
How many people are impacted by disability in the United States?
One in five people in the United States has a disability. However, when you add family members who are directly affected by an individual’s disability, almost 50% of the population is impacted by disability.
How can we serve people with disabilities?
People with disabilities have a variety of needs. Some will need wheelchair accessibility for parish functions. Many more, with limitations in hearing, vision, or cognitive development, can benefit from such parish provisions as an assistive listening system, service materials in large print and adjustments in program planning that recognize their special needs.
We are often unaware of those among us with such disabilities – and of ways in which a parish can serve them, sometimes at little monetary cost. Click on Ways to Make Your Parish More Accessible [See end of doc for this]for a list of a variety of things you can do for little or no cost.
How do I go about becoming accessible?
There are a number of steps to the process. It is best to find some like-minded people in your congregation who can work on the issue with you. After a group is formed, look at your present needs as a parish. Survey your parishioners. Are there people who have trouble hearing the sermon? Or who can no longer read the service bulletin or words of the hymns? Or, who don’t come to coffee hour because the stairs are a barrier? Talk also with people who have stopped coming to church entirely. Include everyone in the process from the beginning, you need their perspective.
Once you determine the needs, begin to put together a plan with short-term and long-term goals. Examine your facility to see what can easily be done to make worship and community life more inviting: providing large print prayer books and hymnals; installing an assistive listening system to complement your church’s sound system or purchasing one that is portable and not connected to a sound system.
When systems are in place, education is needed so that ushers are familiar with wheelchair etiquette, know how to explain the use of an assistive listening device, and know how to offer a large-print edition to someone with low vision.
You also need to publicize your provisions for disabilities. Too often that part is forgotten. We can help you set up a ministry for this. Click on “Contact us”.
More expensive accommodations will require work with the parish vestry and may require a capital campaign to get the job done. There may be some limited grants available, but most of the work done in the diocese thus far has come from parishes and members who live out their commitment to be a house of prayer for all people.
How much will it cost?
That depends upon the individual needs of your parish. Accessibility Evaluations are available through this committee. Click on “Contact Us”.
How can my church get funding?
The Diocese does not have sufficient funds to make grants to parishes for accessibility projects. Aging buildings, roofs and furnaces come first. However, parishes are able to borrow money from the Diocesan Loan Fund. View the Property Support Policy Statement. Michael Rebic, Director of Diocesan Property Support, can be reached at, firstname.lastname@example.org If you have services to the community in your buildings you might also be able to get a grant under the ADA.
Aren’t churches exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Churches are exempt unless they house community programs in their buildings. If a church runs a nursery school or other community program or rents space to a group that does, the requirements of the ADA apply to that space. The church should work with the provider of the community services to make the space used accessible.
How much can I participate in the life of a parish as a person with a disability?
You should be able to participate fully; you are not a disabled person, you are a person with a disability. You may have to break new ground. We are here to help,
The Litany was written by the Rev. Kate Chipps revised by Ginny Thornburgh, conference keynoter, for the That All May Worship Conferences, sponsored by the National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.). The litany was adapted for use in the Diocese of New York by the Diocesan Committee on Accessibility for People with Disabilities.
A list of suggestions from an Episcopal Disability Network Bulletin, adapted for use in the Diocese of New York by the Diocesan Accessibility Committee.
Wheelchair Accessibility or Mobility Limitations
United Spinal Association (USA), formerly EPVA
United Spinal Association (USA), formerly Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the needs of spinal cord injured/diseased veterans residing primarily in New York, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Since its founding in 1946 as a branch of EPVA United Spinal Association has been operating valuable programs designed to enable its members, as well as other persons with disabilities, to live full and productive lives.
Federal Access Board
Churches are exempt from the requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but information on the guidelines can be found at www.access-board.gov/.
Independent Living Centers
Click here to go to a list of centers in the New York State.