The Communion of Saints

St Andrew Presbyterian Church

Churches in the US are not subject to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because we believe that it is important in our society not to subject religious institutions to (some of) the government’s whims.

Which is why, 13 years after the ADA, the church in which my choir rehearses does not have a wheelchair accessible bathroom. Until a year ago, they did not have any way to get onto the curb. They have no place in their sanctuary where a person in a wheelchair or scooter may sit without blocking an aisle. Their two handicapped permit parking spaces are as far as you can get from the main entrance and still be on church property.

It took me a couple of years, but I finally have gotten some insight into why this situation continues:

There’s a perception that the changes that are needed are very expensive. Some of them are: all of the classrooms and offices are up or down a flight of stairs. There have been very few (or no) people in the congregation who have demanded change.

I’ve spent the last month or so working with the church to help them explore what they can do inexpensively and quickly to create a more architecturally accessible church. I’ve been helped tremendously by the Presbyterian Church USA’s Council on Health, Welfare and Education Association.

The church leadership was excessively (in my opinion) concerned about the classroom problem. I urged them to work on what I thought should be their first priorities: parking, sidewalk access, sanctuary access, and restrooms. For sanctuary access, they could remove or cut down pews to make space for wheelchairs and scooters. There are two restrooms with three stalls apiece on the ground floor; they can combine two narrow stalls into one accessible stall in each restroom. They can put signs on the exterior doors that are inaccessible. They can add a curbcut near the front door.

At this point, I am cautiously optimistic. The facilities committee chairman has visited some other churches to see what they have done, and is presenting a low cost proposal for changes to the session.

Perhaps they just needed someone to go into the bathroom with them and show them what needed to be done.


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