Under the Equality Act, reasonable adjustments need to be made to cater for people with different abilities.
There are many different disabilities and some are more obvious than others. You might not even be aware that someone has a disability in your congregation.
The law requires that Churches and Places of Worship take steps to ensure accessibility. This includes making reasonable adjustments to buildings and facilities. These rules apply whether or not you have someone in the congregation with a disability - you must provide for members of the public who could attend your premises.
The below are some commonly used methods to ensure that any Church or Place of Worship is accessible:
If you have a car park available, designate some spaces for use by 'Blue Badge' users. The number of spaces you provide depends on the size of your car park, but at least two is preferred. The spaces should be in places where access to the building is easiest (such as close to a path) and need enough space to allow a wheelchair user to move about.
Access paths should be as flat as possible. Avoid using gravel as this surface is difficult to navigate.
If you need to use steps to get into the building, consider installing a ramp. Hand rails can be beneficial to some people who might struggle to use steps.
Multi-story buildings would benefit from lifts, enabling people to move between floors without having to negotiate stairs. Lifts require regular servicing and maintenance (often every six months). Don't forget to think about emergency situations where a lift cannot be used, such as a fire or a power failure, where evacuation chairs may be needed.
Doors should be wide enough for people using wheelchairs to use. Tyhe door-width would usually be at least 800 mm wide. Doors with self-closing mechanisms (usually used for fire safety) can be fitted with modern closing mechanisms that are easier to open and negotiate or be held open by equipment that closes the door if the fire alarm activates.
An induction loop system is useful for those with a hearing aid. This will make the sound much clearer for these people. For this to be effective, remember that only those people who are speaking into a microphone will be heard by loop users, so everyone (including ministers, readers and other speakers) need to be aware of this.
People with visual impairments might benefit from a range of simple measures, from using a contrasting paint colour on doors compared to the frame and tactile mats at the top and bottom of stairs.
If you have a welcome desk or serving counter, make one part lower for the benefit of wheelchair users and others who might not be able to reach a high desktop.
Wheelchair users and those with other mobility impairments would benefit from a wheelchair-friendly toilet facility. This would be fitted with hand rails and be spacious enough for a wheelchair. Hand rails could easily be fitted to an existing toilet as a simple upgrade.
Consider leaving some space in your seating plan for wheelchairs and guide dogs. It is not acceptable for these people to use aisle spaces for fire safety reasons so this needs to be planned into the normal layout.
Signs (such as those showing the location of toilets) are available with tactile symbols and Braille for the benefit of those who are blind or partially sighted.
You must consider how people with disabilities could be affected by services and activities. These are some examples:
If you use a computer and projector for song words, consider connecting up a video camera to make demonstrations and visual aids larger. This will make it easier to see for everyone, especially in larger buildings.
Explain any predominantly visual elements of worship and accompany music by visual aids (again, using the projector if you use one). Be aware that background noise does cause problems for some people, so avoid talking over music.
Where there is an induction loop system, encourage those people taking part to use microphones otherwise hearing aid users might miss out on parts of worship.
Have a number of large-print hymn books, Bibles (and any other book used in worship) available.
Make any newsletters, notice sheets and welcome packs available in audio versions for those who have difficulty reading. MP3 files can be created on most home computers with relative ease.
Use suitable colour combinations for projectors, posters etc... Use contrasting colours (light on dark or dark on light), and choose a large print size and avoid fussy fonts. Don't use hand-written notices or stencils - computers are capable of producing easier to read writing. Avoid black-on-white (or the reverse) for projector screens as this can make it harder to read.
Use clear English, avoiding jargon and words which might be easily misread or misunderstood.
During emergencies, such as a fire, you need to think about how you would evacuate people from the premises. You must think about the needs of the individual, and provide any assistance in a dignified and discrete manner if this is required.
For those people that regularly use the building, talk with them and create a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP). This would identify suitable emergency exit routes, the assistance needed (if any) and the use of emergency evacuation equipment (such as evacuation chairs).
In a Church or Place of Worship, it is foreseeable that members of the public who may attend could also need assistance. We'd recommend that Generic Emergency Evacuation Plans (GEEPs) are developed for these situations.
It is important to ensure that people who cannot evacuate by themselves are not left alone in the building to be rescued by the emergency services. You have to make provision to evacuate people from the premises.
The assistance given to people will vary depending on their needs. Someone with a visual impairment might need to be guided out of the building. A wheelchair user might need assistance to manoeuvre along a fire exit route. Someone using crutches might need assistance in opening doors along the exit route. Some people might not hear or understand the fire alarm warning and these people might need to be informed in other ways, such as pagers or Visual Alarm Devices (flashing lights connected to the fire alarm system).