3 Universal Design Ideas to Welcome People with (and without) Disabilities to Your Faith Community

Whether you use a wheelchair, a walker, or a stroller, or if you have ever had to move something heavy, we can all sing the praises of the architects who invented universal design. Every time we use a curb cut, a ramp instead of stairs, or the push button on a door we see that universal design makes life easier for everyone. We can use this same principle around our faith communities.  

Photo of a black ramp in a white hallway by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash

Worship         

Universal design in worship is an important way to welcome everyone. People with and without disabilities may be confused about worship, and when to sit, when to stand, and where to find prayers and instructions. One solution is to use illustrated infographics that explain your worship process. Making the tacit explicit is an important way to offer universal design in your faith community. You can check out an example at http://www.faithinclusion.com.

In addition to using infographics, make sure that your worship materials are organized and easy to find for members and visitors. And ask your worship leaders to make directions to follow worship explicit. Worship leaders should refer to page numbers, resources, etc… to help people follow along.

Access

When talking about Universal Design, it’s important that we address our buildings. You probably won’t have a chance to finish a building project to increase accessibility, but you may be able to address some “low hanging fruit” around the building. Borrow a wheelchair and check your room transitions. If they are bumpy or uncomfortable to cross consider removing them, or replacing them with a lower profile transition. Check carpets and rugs and be sure that they are firmly tacked down in all areas of the building, and take a look at your signs. Updating signs is an easy way to make your building more welcoming. While you are updating, be sure that people know where the accessible entrances and pathways through your building are.

Registration Forms

We can think about the same principles for our religious education programs. As we prepare to welcome people back this fall, think about simple forms that would be helpful for everyone- consider adding questions like following to your registration forms this year:

  1. Does your child have any allergies?
  2. Are there any medical or behavioral issues we need to support in religious programs?
  3. What comforts your child if they become upset?
  4. Are there any environmental triggers that can upset your child (like vacuum cleaners, paste, loud tv, etc…)?

These questions (and ones like these) can be really helpful in supporting children with disabilities, but they are also useful for supporting all of the kids in your programs! That’s the beauty of universal design- when we work to support people with special needs, everyone ends up benefiting!

We hope that these ideas help you think about universal design in your ministry setting. If you have suggestions or ideas, we would love to hear them at huggins1013@gmail.com.

Published in the August 2021 UCICC Newsletter.

Published by Deborah Huggins, MDiv, PhD

I'm blessed to serve as associate pastor of youth and children at Central Presbyterian church in Summit New Jersey where I get to support families as we find connection to God and our community. My doctorate is in Special education, with a focus in faith inclusion.

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