For information about accessibility audits for churches, go to this page.
Since many United Methodist churches were built before accessibility became an important concern, some lack basic features that allow persons with disabilities to participate. Even in churches constructed after the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), some parts of the church building, including the chancel, may not be accessible for all. While disability-friendly changes usually can’t be made overnight, given time, most churches can become functionally accessible. Not all helpful changes require financial support. See this issue of New World Outlook on accessibility for more information.
The suggestions here may guide awareness and planning. Consult ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines, along with state and local building codes before beginning construction or remodeling projects. Involve members of the congregation or community who have low vision or are blind to plan and implement of projects. Also, contact the local service center for blind people. Access more information about audits and printable forms.
Getting to the building:
- Include public transportation information (e.g. which bus line and bus stop) when providing directions on the church web site.
- Offer rides to all congregational events, and include persons with low vision in car pools to outside events and meetings.
- Make edges detectable (change of texture-from cement to grass) to sidewalks and pathways; this is helpful for a person using a cane.
- Keep sidewalk segments level and in good repair to avoid tripping hazards.
- Trim branches over sidewalks to no lower than 80 inches and cut back plants or bushes so they don’t protrude onto the walkway.
- Use tactile changes in walkway surface (“truncated domes” is the standard) to warn that a pathway enters a driveway, street, or parking lot, and to mark approaches to stairways or other hazards.
- All obstacles should be cane-detectable; obstacles that protrude more than 4 inches need a low warning barrier (maximum 27 inches high) that someone using a cane will encounter before they come to the danger.
- Place a level, flat beveled-edge mat in front of entrance doors, extending the width of swing areas; this is helpful for a person using a cane.
- Hang a wind chime near the most accessible entrance, which should be close to the public transportation drop off area.
- Use high contrast colors between the door and the walls of the building, and have a strong light near the door.
- Mark door knobs on doors leading to unsafe areas (non-public stairwells, boiler rooms) with textured tape.
- Glass doors need decals or other contrasting material at chest and face height for safety; paint frames with highly contrasting colors.
Entrances and hallways:
- Post a greeter or door opener for all events including worship.
- Train greeters on how to orient persons with low vision or who are blind to the building.
- If the greeter cannot leave the doorway, have other volunteer guides available.
- Have an embossed brailled or tactual (tactile) building map or a 3-dimensional tactile model of the building and grounds available to help the person gain an overview of the building.
- Ask someone who uses Braille to post Braille labels on the building directory and on room door signs.
- Room door signs should be next to door frames with the characters between 48 and 60 inches off the floor. (See ADA information in appendix).
- Obtain raised number tactile signs with high contrast colors, per ADA standards, for persons with low vision.
- When possible, use high contrast colors on various surfaces: door knob to door; door frames and doors to walls; floor to wall; wall to handrail; and light switch to wall.
- Use a single color on floor surfaces if possible; a large dark square can be perceived as a step or hole and become a tripping hazard.
- Keep hallways clear of clutter and keep consistent pathways open and available.
- Mark hazards with high contrast colors; mark the leading edge of stairway and chancel with a wide strip of a contrasting color and texture.
- A Church for People of All Abilities | New World Outlook 2014
- Church Accessibility | video from Northern Illinois Conference
- Ideas for Becoming Intentionally Disability-Friendly On a Tight Budget (Word) | Lynn Swedberg, 2019
- First Steps: Accessibility tips for small congregations | Ramona Richards, Cokesbury Commons, 2015
- Adapting a church building and program for people who are blind or have low vision | The Voice 2018
- Conference accessibility | The Voice 2017
- Pew Cuts (PDF)| Lynn Swedberg and Charlotte Hawkins, 2019