The picture above shows how to do it right. A shallow ramp with rails that wheelchair users and others can use without assistance, the ramp is also decorative in a style which complements the building and the steps have handrails. Well done Fifth Avenue Presbeterian Church, this picture from 2013 is an example how to get it right.
There are things people do which they think is getting it right, but is of little help, and these include wheelchair assistance ramps and the worst I have seen, a space beside the loo in an accessible toilet which is meant for a wheelchair user but was used foe the storage of stepladders.
In the UK there is no excuse for the bad treatment of disabled people, going back to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
From 2004 service providers (including churches) have had to make reasonable adjustments to the physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access.
The Equality Act 2010 was introduced to bring together various pieces of anti-discrimination legislation and this included the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Under the Equality Act it is still unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their disability. The Act also includes a duty to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled person.
Disability legislation is not a tick list, accessible toilet, tick; ramp, tick; inductive loop for those who are hard of of hearing, tick. It is about constantly reviewing the reasonable adjustments needed and that constant review is needed toreview the changes made at regular intervals.
Yet despite 27 years of it being a legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments in the last few tears both the Baptist Union and the Church of England have published documents about the need for accessibility. The take up has been very slow. We are not just talking about deafness, blindness and physical disabilities here, how would your church react to someone with schizoprenia having a full psychotic episode during a service? Or an autistic person having a meltdown? Do you have a quiet space people can retreat to when the chtting over coffee gets loud? If not you could be in breach of disability law. Even simple things like not having cluttered noticeboards help people.
There are things that hold churches back from putting the requires adjustments in. One is money. Small rural churches can seldom afford such large projects. Then there’s listed buildings. English Heritage seem to think of historic churches as museums of a bygone age and not as vibrant communities of people in the current age. It’s a difficult balancing act, but getting in the way of churches achieving their legal minimum of meeting the requirements of disability legislation would make English Heritage a hate organisation against disabled people. In any case the churches mission to go to all people makes going way beyond the requirements of legislation.
Churches, who are you leaving behind?