Built of Living Stones 211-214: Accessibility

These four sections outline the US bishops’ directives on ensuring that “full and active participation” is possible for every person. BLS 211 backs it up with a Biblical reference, a statement from the US bishops from the 70’s, as well as the concerns of Pope John Paul II.

§ 211 § Every person should be welcomed into the worshiping assembly with respect and care. It was the prophet Isaiah who announced the Lord’s message: “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”(Isaiah 56:7) The bishops of the United States have stated that “it is essential that all forms of the liturgy be completely accessible to persons with disabilities, since these forms are the essence of the spiritual tie that binds the Christian community together.”(Pastoral Statement of the U. S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with
Disabilities
(1978), p. 6) Further direction is given by Pope John Paul II, who has called the Church to the full integration of persons with disabilities into family, community, and Church, and to overcome “the tendency to isolate, segregate and marginalize [those with disabilities].”(Pope John Paul II, Devoted to the Handicapped (March 4, 1981), I, 4) When buildings present barriers to the full and active participation of all, the Body of Christ is harmed.

For BLS 212-213, I’ve included the notes in full as given in the document:

§ 212 § Special attention should be given to individuals with visual or hearing impairments, to those who have difficulty walking or who are in wheelchairs, and to the elderly with frailties. In addition to ramps, elevators, braille signs, and special sound systems that can be accessed by those who need assistance, staircases should have at least one railing. If the sanctuary is elevated by steps, an unobtrusively placed ramp with a hand rail should be provided to make it possible for everyone to have access to the sanctuary.*

*In addition to eliminating architectural barriers, other forms of assistance should be available to persons with disabilities (for example, providing
listening devices, providing places for signing/interpretation, using printed texts and captioned audiovisual materials, installing visual emergency alarms, and making available special telephones for use by persons with hearing difficulties).

§ 213 § The planning process should include consultation with persons with various disabilities and the use of an accessibility inventory* to ensure a careful review of potential or existing architectural barriers. All new construction and renovation work must fully integrate the demands of the liturgy with current laws, codes, and ordinances for persons with disabilities.

*Cf. Accessibility Inventory from the National Office of Persons with Disabilities. This is available also in the January 2000 Environment and Art
Newsletter
from Liturgy Training Publications.

§ 214 § Older places of worship can be especially challenging because of the obstacles they present to persons with disabilities. In the renovation of older buildings, special provisions must be made to harmonize the requirements for accessibility with the architectural integrity of the building and with the norms for the proper celebration of liturgy. Adaptations to existing buildings can be expensive, but failure to make the community’s places of worship accessible will exact a far more costly human and ecclesial toll. The goal is always to make the entire church building accessible to all of God’s People.

This is a wise approach. The bishops acknowledge that older building present a challenge–not an obstacle nor money pit. A goal is presented, and goals are often in process of being achieved. Assuming that local communities are always moving toward achievable goals, that is an important first step. And speaking for a community that has a broadly accessible church, we are always looking for ways to refine the friendliness we present to people who live with impaired sight, hearing, mobility, etc..

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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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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