Accessing the Liturgy

Our staff and a few parish commissions are thick in the discussion of accessibility, mainly at our weekend Masses. Though we are getting good marks on the issues of welcoming and accommodation, we have some items to tweak.

Some of the positives include a flexibility on where folks in wheelchairs and walkers can sit. It is important to give people the choice, and not to force them into a segregated area. We are easily able to accommodate people who want to sit in front, near the front, or in the back. When you think about it, having a particular area isn’t really very welcoming or respectful.

One piece I’ve noticed as I see our automatic doors in use–we’ve been criticized for them. The synchronization of inner and outer door isn’t necessarily a good thing. As they are set now, door one opens first, and door two is on a delay. As it opens, the first door will begin to close. One parishioner reports concern that the first door may begin to close before she can proceed all the way through the second. While it may save a bit on lost heat or conditioned air, it is a challenge to us to consider a simultaneous opening. And one lasting a sufficient time to get a carefully-moving person through.

How do you handle accessibility issues at your parish? Churches aren’t required to be ADA-compliant, but very many choose to do so. I wonder how more traditional churches handle the challenges of wheelchairs, especially the larger mechanical ones.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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7 Responses to Accessing the Liturgy

  1. BaltoCath says:

    “Churches aren’t required to be ADA-compliant, but very many choose to do so.” No legal or canonical (AFAIK) requirement but as a matter of charity…

    Our church is rather small. The pews in the front two rows are shorter than the rest providing extra space that can easily accommodate a wheelchair on either side of the aisle. It isn’t marked out as such, but if you were to come in in a wheelchair and look about for a place to “park”, that would be the obvious spot.

    The only problem is you have to scoot out of the way for a bit during Holy Communion. The one wheelchair-bound lady I know is quite adept at this.

  2. Liam says:

    In my experience with my mother, the real problems are communion procession flows -because spaces for wheelchairs tend to be at the edges and corners of things, and that’s precisely where communion stations and flows tend to knot up.

    Some churches simply remove pews or rows of seating. Doing this at the back of the church is sub-optimal, since many (not all) people in wheelchairs are older and may have hearing or vision problems (I was astonished at the nice large Catholic hospital chapel near my parents that *no* place for anyone in a wheelchair, even though the entrance to the chapel flows directly from the hospital’s main corridor!). But you have to provide seating *next to* wheelchairs for the people who are pushing the wheelchair, something that is often neglected in the planning. So short rows tend to work best, but they have to be spaced properly to allow movement.

    Also, be sure to clear ramps and handicap parking spaces of ice and snow in the winter. I know my parents have to battle the elements at church, and my father has to haul the wheelchair in and out of the trunk and set it up/break it down next to the car while it’s raining or snowing.

  3. JC says:

    Wow! A post that isn’t insulting to traditional Catholics–OK, never mind, I forgot the last part.

    Technically, most motorized wheelchairs are smaller than manual wheelchairs (and, with manual wheelchairs, you have to account for the pusher).

    I just keep the feet and head off of my power chair. There’s a lady in a Jazzy at the 5:30 Mass we usually attend, and her chair is a lot smaller than mine.

    That church has a ramp on the side that’s fine for power but a pain in manual. The building itself is a nice gothic church with a flat floor and wide aisles, and it’s very accessible. They don’t make a big deal about segregating people in wheelchairs to specific parts of church.

    The other gothic parish in town, technically the parish we joined when we moved here, only has a ramp on one side. Downer for us is that the cry room is up a half flight of stairs.

    They have a handicapped aisle, which is nice from a handicapped perspective but a pain for a guy in a wheelchair with young kids who may go running off at any moment. At one of the Christmas season Masses (maybe it *was* Christmas?), there was no room in the handicapped pew, and I had to stay on the side aisle with my girls, who were hard to keep control of without a ‘set pew.’

    So far, the two gothich churches in town are both OK for accessibility.

    The other church we regularly attend is a suburban parish, modern “we are the Church,” “let’s worship ourselves in a movie theatre” style architecture, which is very accessible (and, most importantly, has an accessible cry room).

    Lastly, in terms of “regulars”, there’s an Anglican Use parish where I attend Latin Mass and Carmelite meetings. The church itself is very small, and it’s acceptably accessible, but the parish hall/house is tricky to get into.

    We considered joining a *very* suburban parish when my dad took a job as organist (commuting a state and staying with us every weekend). That only lasted about 2 months, and that parish was very inaccessible. I could not fit my chair in the aisles at all, and I didn’t see the point in attending Mass at a church where I’d be relegated to receiving in the vestibule every week.

    As for the other churches in town, I can’t really say. But I find that, with the feet off, and its almost turn-on-a-dime maneuverability, i can get just about anywhere in my motorized wheelchair, provided there aren’t huge steps or considerably narrow pathways.

  4. Todd says:

    Thanks for stopping by again to comment, JC. Thanks more for the insights. You’re welcome here any time.

  5. Tom says:

    Our church is pretty accessible. We just moved there last year, they have automatic doors, sign language interpreters, etc. There’s a lot more to do, but I’m finding that they are open for new ideas, and actually for implementing them. We are happy to be there, and would like to contribute as well.

    Tom

  6. Muhamid says:

    Give me a break. If my Cathoilc church were a public building or business, I would file a civil rights complaint with the US Justice Department because they would not come close to complying with the ADA. When it comes to accessibility for the 14 million Catholics living with disabilities, the Catholic church is a disgrace and the secular world is more accepting and welcoming. We need to stop having our Bishops wear silly hats that make them feel superior to the rest of us and get them walking the earth and learning how to make the Catholic Church relevant in the 21st Century.

  7. Muhamid says:

    And one more thought — Churches are required to be ADA compliant — not by the federal government, but by the policies issued in 1978, by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. But, of course the guys with the hats don’t hold their pastoral staff’s accountable. I long to live in world that is moral because it is the right thing to do, not because the government has legislated morality. Yes, the Catholic Church is 30 years behind the secular world in accessiblity for all Catholics.

    And don’t get me going on accessiblity in our Catholic schools — 45 years behind in the curriculum design alone.

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