Handicapped Access

One thing I am just beginning to realize is the limits of handicap access. The place that most caused me to sit up and take notice (after my parents’ two story home) was their church. Handicap access means more than a few parking spaces and cut-out curb, or at least it ought to mean more than that.

The church where my parents have attended for years opened a new worship center today. They have 8 spaces for wheelchairs or walkers. This is in a church of 2000 at least. Probably more.

And their new worship center has space for 8 wheelchairs or walkers.

One was taken up with the video camera.

One space was available, but there was someone sitting in the seat next to the space, so that you couldn’t sit with your handicapped family member… Basically, there were no handicapped spaces left when we arrived 10 minutes before church started.

I parked my dad’s wheelchair at the end of a row that did not have a row across from it. That meant that while people had to go around his wheelchair, he wasn’t blocking aisle access. I assume the opposite side of the room had a similar situation, so technically there would be room for ten wheelchairs.

If you ignore the fact that the baby boomers, like my daddy, are aging and more likely to need those spaces, there are other problems too.

First, all the seats are in the back. How many of those people used to sit in the front, would like to sit in the front, but can’t because to sit in the front they would have to block the aisle? I don’t know. But it’s something to think about.

Something else to think about is the fact that most churches nowadays forgo songbooks and use the overhead projector (if they do congregational singing of any kind). But, when people stand up to sing, very common at my parents’ church, the person in the wheelchair cannot see the words. For older songs, this might not be an issue, although even high-singing churches (like the Church of Christ) have many people who need the words for the songs. So the lack of visual reference might not be an issue for older songs… But what about when the congregation is learning a new song? The people in the wheelchairs can’t see it.

Now, I’m hoping my dad won’t be in a wheelchair forever. And probably most people who are in wheelchairs are older…. But think about a teen in a wheelchair. Do they want to come to church and sit in back when all the rest of the teens are in the front? A handicapped teen could not come to my son’s church, because all the teen functions are on the second floor and there are no elevators.

Yes, curbs that let people who are having trouble walking or who are in wheelchairs get up and in are great.

Handicap parking with space for pulling a wheelchair up are wonderful.

Bathrooms with doors wide enough for wheelchairs are essential for these folks. Those are now mandated by law. But they aren’t really enough.

I never knew what all was necessary or useful for a person temporarily or permanently confined to a wheelchair.

Private bathrooms or family bathrooms are also good. What would I do if my dad needed to go to the bathroom at church? I can’t go into the men’s bathroom and my dad cannot get to the toilet on his own.

Places where they can sit without blocking the aisle is good too.

At a restaurant, it would be good to have tables that are a bit bigger than average to allow them to park their wheelchair underneath the table without hitting everyone else.

Stairs anywhere are bad. My folks’ home has four stairs into the back and twelve or so into the front. My dad can’t come in the front door. He has to have metal ramps up the back and one of the ramps isn’t a perfect fit, so you have to bring Dad up backwards and “bounce” him over the last bit. If you bring him in forward, he’s liable to bounce onto his face.

It’s something I noticed today.

Don’t we want our churches to be as friendly to people wanting to come, even people with mobility issues, as possible?