February 10, 2020

The Message of Welcome

“What were they thinking?” is often the head-shaking lament of congregational leaders surveying the obstacles inherited from architects and renovators in previous decades. Up three steps to get to the nave, down a flight to reach the fellowship hall, through a narrow hallway to get to a restroom with even narrower stalls.

Recognizing these barriers, many churches really, really try to make changes to increase accessibility. For most of us, our first thoughts are of stairs and restrooms, but there is so much more.

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the AWS Foundation helps children and adults of all abilities live as independently as possible, be included in the community, and function at their highest potential. As the agency celebrates its new headquarters this year, CEO Patti Hays explains the building and furnishings measure up correctly. But she adds, “What is unmeasurable is the message of welcoming. If we have done it right, there is an openness to all the community.”

In a recent newsletter, AWS Foundation offers more details about how to do it right:

We strived to make our new headquarters a place where all are welcome. Where all don’t have to worry about their surroundings. A woman with a cane doesn’t have to worry about tripping on the transition between flooring types. Where a man in a motorized wheelchair knows that he will have a place at the table. A place where the doors are extra wide so that people know that there is enough space. There are options for seating allowing all to be comfortable. Light switches allow for people of all abilities to operate them. The bathroom mirrors are tilted so that a person of short stature or using a wheelchair can see themselves. A person who cannot bend down very easily doesn’t have to because the electrical outlet has been raised from the standard height to 3 feet."

To increase your church’s message of welcome, seek out an agency in your area that advocates for people with disabilities. Ask them to help you discover how well your facilities measure up.