Young man in a wheelchair waiting at the bottom of steps / Photo by michaelpuche (Depositphotos)

Are Our Religious Spaces Accessible?

Are Our Religious Spaces Accessible?

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Commentary by Hyphen Parent | FāVS News

“… If we want everybody to participate, then everyone has to be able to get in.

Rivka Herzfeld

Is your religious space accessible? Is this a question you’ve ever even asked yourself?

Are there ramps leading into and out of your buildings? Are those ramps on steep inclines? Do you have clear signage directing people to accessible entrances? Are doors heavy and difficult to open? Are masks required?

Is there seating that makes it easy to slip out of the service if need be? Is there ample space for someone to walk through aisles using crutches or a cane? Would a wheelchair fit? Is there somewhere for a wheelchair user to park their chair and sit during services? Would they still be able to be an active part of the service if they use that space?

Are there cords draped across the floor that would be tripping hazards for someone with limited mobility or limited sight? Are there prayer books available with larger fonts? Are there prayer books in braille?

What’s bathroom access like? Are bathrooms tucked away in narrow corners? Would someone using mobility aids be able to get in and out of the bathroom? What about the stalls?

Do you have handicapped parking? Is it open and available or blocked and inaccessible?

If you’ve never thought about these because you don’t typically get disabled people in your religious space, ask yourself, “Why is that?”

According to U.S. Census data from 2021, about 13% of the American population is disabled. Among those 42.5 million Americans are those who wish to be active participants in their faith. A major problem, however, is that many religious spaces make that difficult or even impossible.

Explore your religious spaces. Take your board members on a tour with accessibility in mind. Consult with people with disabilities and ask about their experiences and suggestions.

Millions of people find great comfort in prayer and tradition in a religious space. If you make it impossible for those people to be a part of your religious community, are you living up to the ideals of your religion?

For additional information:

“A waste of an outfit”: Rivka Herzfeld writes of her experiences at inaccessible synagogues on Pesach and Purim.

This interview with Rivka Herzfeld on Orthodox Conundrum is incredibly insightful regarding her life, particularly her religious experience as someone with a disability. The quotation that opens the article is from the end of this interview.

“Ableism Is Still a Core Part of Church Spaces. Here’s How to Change It”: Amy Kenny writes of an experience requesting a ramp at church and offers some suggestions.

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Walter A Hesford

Thank you for bringing up this important issue. The church I attend is wheel-chair accessible, but its altar is not. Some of us have been trying to change this for years, but those attached to to the way things are worry about aesthetics and cost–as if these were more important that including all in worship.

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