Buildings and Structure
Providing for Disabilities
The information included here has been prepared for parishes by the Diocesan Committee on Accessibility for People with Disabilities. It explains what will enable people with disabilities to participate fully in your 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.
For low cost or no-cost ways to make your parish more accessible, please click here.
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, [email protected] 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 can I obtain large-print materials for worship?
Check our Blind and Visually Disabled Resources section for information on ordering large-print prayer books and hymnals. Large print service leaflets can easily be produced by any parish with a computer or a copier with enlargement capabilities.
How do I make my service leaflet more accessible?
Size and style of font can make a big difference. A sans serif font like Arial is best for someone with low vision problems. It is also helpful for the average person sitting in a dim section of the church. Most copying machines can expand the size of type. Having some programs available in larger type can be helpful. An even better solution is to make it clearer for everybody so people with low vision do not feel like they are standing out in the crowd.
Lighthouse (for the Blind) offers two documents, Print Legibility and Partial Sight--Guidelines for Designing Legible Text, and Color Contrast and Partial Sight--How to design with colors that contrast effectively for people with low vision and color deficiencies. Their website is: www.lighthouse.org
Is there anything I can do for people with serious vision limitations?
People whose vision is seriously limited have difficulty with the hymnal, even when enlarged. Many find it easier to follow the verses when they are printed as a poem, without the music.
What parishes have braille materials?
Two parishes have told us they have service materials in Braille, Holy Trinity (88th St), Manhattan Central and Christ (Ramapo), Suffern. We suggest that you speak to your rector about obtaining the materials the parish needs. Check our VISION resources section to find out where braille materials can be obtained.
We have a donor who would like to provide a sound system so that everyone might hear. Are there guidelines established for this sort of installation?
Yes, the Federal Access Bureau has published accessibility guidelines for installers, providers and consumers. The brochures are available from the Federal Access Bureau website www.access-board.gov. Information and assistance are available from the Rochester NY Chapter of SHHH (Self Help for Hard of Hearing People) www.shhh-rochester-ny.org, and League for the Hard of Hearing in Manhattan www.lhh.org. Click on Late Deafened or Hard of Hearing Resources for more detailed information.
Can a general sound system serve the severely hard of hearing without special devices being provided?
No, absolutely not. The Federal Access Bureau brochures for providers of assistive listening systems explain exactly why this is not possible.
How can one be sure that the organ and choir will not boom in order for the preacher to be heard? Does this require a body mike?
It won't boom (if the assistive listening system is properly installed) and you do need a body mike. The preacher and celebrant do not need to raise their voices; the sound will go directly through the ALS to those who are connected to it.
Do we really need a contractor to install a system?
You should have expert help, whether a consultant to advise you on how to install it yourself or a professional to do the whole job, it can be complicated. Where to go for help can be found at Late Deafened or Hard of Hearing Resources
Do you know of churches in which good sound systems have been installed?
Grace Church, lower Manhattan, has a good sound system with a Telex FM Assistive Listening System (ALS) system in the church and meeting rooms and a ministry for monitoring and maintaining the receivers. We will have more as we receive details from parishes. You can check the descriptions of Parishes for parishes reporting that they have ALS.
Someone mentioned CART, what is it and is it something we should get in our parish?
CART stands for Communication Access Realtime Translation. With CART, everything that is said is "captioned" live, like court reporting except what is said is displayed on a large screen. Your church may not have the funds for captioning services; CART is best used at large gatherings, particularly in places where the acoustics make it difficult to hear. It does not, however, take the place of sign language interpreters for people who are Deaf and communicate with American Sign Language (ASL). Contact Us for more information.
Is there a national church source for any of the above information?
There is an Episcopal Disability Network in Minneapolis, MN edn4ministry.org You may find that the information about some disabilities may be more complete than about others.
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 Diocesan Accessibility Committee has architects who will evaluate your church for accessibility. Not every parish can afford to make extensive renovations to become completely accessible for people in wheelchairs but the architect will be able to offer suggestions on how to become more accessible. You can make an appointment for a parish visit. Contact Us
Video with a light-hearted approach that looks at and dispels some of the common myths and misconceptions about disability that are prevalent in our society. Running approximately 12 minutes, it is short enough to fit into the sermon time, at parish meetings or as a basis for discussion in study groups. Produced by Program Development Associates, a leader in disability training programs for corporations and other organizations. It is available for parishes to borrow. Contact us.
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/indexes/accessindex.htm
Independent Living Centers
Click to go to a list of centers in the Diocese.
Resources for the Deaf
Please click here.
Resources for the Vision Limited & Blind
Disabilities Committee members are available to answer any questions parishes may have on accessibility for people who are blind or visually disabled, Contact Us for more information.
American Federation for the Blind (AFB)
11 Penn Plaza
New York NY 10001
Fax: (212) 502-7777
AFB Information Center (800) 232-5463
Email: [email protected]
Lighthouse National Center
Large Print Materials & Books in Braille
Forward Movement Publications
412 Sycamore Street
Cincinnati OH 45202-4195
(513) 721-6659 or (800) 543-1813
Fax: (513) 421-0315
Forward Day by Day in large print
Other large print materials - Call Forward Publications for information.
(513) 721-6659 or (800) 543-1813
Fax: (513) 421-0315
Book of Common Prayer in Braille - 13 volumes
Forward Day by Day in Braille
Bibles for the Blind and Visually Handicapped
3408 Rosehill Road
Terre Haute IN 47805
T. Luke's Braillist
Christ Episcopal Church
410 Grand Avenue
Waukegan IL 60085