Disability Issues and the Church: Are you guilty of inclusive violations in your worship services?

Who are People with Disabilities?

“Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S”, Press Release – Centers for Disease Control 2015 Statistical Reportto read more click here  

The chances are that someone with a disability or a family with a child with a disability has visited your church or ministry event at some point in time.

Are you guilty of inclusive violations in your worship services when it comes to people with disabilities?

How inclusive is your worship service for people with disabilities?  A few simple steps can assist people with disabilities in full participation in your faith community.

  • Has your church or ministry developed a plan for accessibility and inclusiveness for people with various types of disabilities?
  • Is  your technology up to date?
  • Is your web and social media sites accessible to all?

508 Standards  

  • Although  508 Standards only apply to federal agencies; it is in good faith that all public websites be considered accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

* If a blind person  cannot use a screen reader software program to access your website or a deaf person can not interpret a video presentation on your site; your site is not fully accessible to all.

Best Practice:

So often, the church has been guilty of relying on special education experts instead of having a conversation directly with people with disabilities as to their needs and preferences. Although we value special education professionals and their expertise; When ever possible, have individuals with different types of disabilities critique your worship services and provide feedback. Also have them do a walk through of your facilities as to any issues. This will assist your church or ministry gathering and gain insights from their prospective.

Contemporary or Traditional Worship Styles: Regardless of the style, considerations are many times lacking. The fact is that until disability becomes personal to us or our family; we seldom think about these issues.

Contemporary worship may in many ways, sadly be the worst offender

Simple Solutions To Provide Accessible Formats 

  • Email the worship PowerPoint or teaching presentation to those who require materials in an alternative format. They then can access the program materials from their smart phones or tablets during the service.
  • Use your internet tools: Provide Wi – Fi. if possible. Remember, your web and social networking sites along with email solves a lot of accessibility issues. All of the information that appears on the over head screens can be easily posted on your website for that particular service. This can then be accessed by persons using a smart phone or tablet via Wi – Fi. Presentations emailed solves the accessibility issue in most cases.
  • These same guidelines can be used in the classroom as well
  • If individuals who are deaf are expected to attend provide an interpreter when necessary.
  • Online video capturing is available.

Make sure all worship service videos have live capturing available.

  • Overheads:

Are your overheads readable to all? Do not expect the overhead at the front of the auditorium to always be adequate.  Multiple overheads can be helpful by placing one on each side of the auditorium. This will assist persons with visual impairments and seniors as well. Consider having copies of the materials available or simply post the program materials to your church’s website for access.

Congregational Scripture Or Liturgical Readings:

The congregational scripture or liturgical reading time is one of the most over looked parts of the worship service. in regards to accessibility and inclusion in worship.  People with visual impairments will not be able to read the scripture from the overhead.

  • Post ahead of time the pastor or speaker’s scripture text on your website or email. to members.  The scripture text can be accessed prior to service by notebook or smartphone Bible apps. This step will assist individuals with ergonomic or vision issues to have the scripture marked and therefore, with ease of use as they follow along during the message.

Signs and points of direction:

Consider your department and classroom signs.  Make signs distinguishable by adding contrast and lighting. Generally, signs can be seen if they are higher contrast.

Visitor Contact Information:

Folks, please take a look at your visitor cards. Most visitor cards appear to have been published at the time of the Gutenberg Press invention.


·       Use your website. Provide a visitor’s contact form on your website.

·       Have someone assigned to take this information at your visitor desk as well.

Bulletins and inserts:

·       Consider a cleaner font.

·       Use your website or social media site. Make the program bulletin available on line prior to service.

·     Large print is largely old school with modern day technology of tablets and smart phones. However, have the availability to print copies in large print when needed.

Passing the offering plate:

In contemporary worship services, the procedure is to under emphasize money collection that may be off putting to visitors or seekers.  Therefore, the plate or basket is passed during the praise and worship time. Blind people may not know it is coming around and may not have their offering ready.

  • A simple mention that the plate is being passed will provide inclusive thoughtfulness.

Planning a special event or educational workshop:

Registration Forms always, should include check boxes for accommodations needed and materials requested in alternative formats.

  • Always make available materials in alternative format if requested.

Best Practice:

  • When in doubt, always ask the person; never assume. Each individual  is individually different and  may have their own preferences based upon what works best for them.  Speak directly to the person with the disability. Focus your attention on them and not their family member or personal care attendant.
  • Golden Rule: Never assume individuals with disabilities can not do something. The culture of people with disabilities is to be as independent as possible. Options are best and let the person choose their preference.

A few helpful Resources

Resources for Church Accessibility and Inclusion

Accessible Church Websites

Making your website available to all

Understanding the culture

The Church and People with Disabilities, United Methodist Women

Joni & Friends Education and training

These are simple rules of the road to inclusive worship for all. There are many others we can consider as well. If you or your church have put into place other helpful suggestions, please send them to me  to share and we all can be using thoughtful procedures in our worship services on the inclusive road for people with disabilities.

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