Disabilities and the Church: Is the Church Really Open to All?

Disabilities and the Church: Is the Church Really Open to All?

Christians are called to care for the disabled. However, the church is often inaccessible to those living with disabilities. Why? There are two primary reasons. First, churches are not always physically accessible. Second, not all churches are welcoming to people with disabilities. 

Inaccessibility

In my previous blog, I touched on some issues disabled people face when it comes to accessibility. Those navigating life in a wheelchair require ramps and electrically opened doors. Those who are blind need braille signs. Deaf individuals require sign language. To make this harder, enforcing accessibility is a difficult task, even in public spaces. And unfortunately, enforcement becomes even harder in the church.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the most influential piece of disability legislation to date. It has provided people with disabilities more accessibility across all areas of public life. Yet, it does not reach as far as one may think. For example, the ADA does not apply to religious organizations. This is important when we talk about disabilities and the church. 

Because ADA standards do not apply to religious organizations, churches are often inaccessible. Not only do many not have the proper tools, like ramps, to care for those with disabilities, they also do not invest in other ways of making the church a place welcoming to disabilities.

In an article published by Focus on the Family, a mother talks about her experience being a mother of children with disabilities in the church. Parents have to choose between sending their child to Sunday school and their own spiritual formation because their child can not be left alone. Additionally, many churches send disabled individuals to a separate room to watch the service, away from the rest of the congregation. 

While I don’t believe that churches are intentionally trying to hurt the disabled community, this conversation paves the way for another surrounding the misconceptions of disabilities within the church. 

 

A Common Misconception

When grappling with the cause of disabilities in the world, an answer that arises is that disabilities are a punishment for sin. This is a common misconception and if this view is held, it can result in an unwelcoming church. I believe that in order to bring justice for the disabled community, this must be addressed. 

Fortunately for us, Jesus clearly answers this question. John 9:1-3 (NIV) says,

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”

As Jesus clearly states, disabilities are not a result of sin. Rather, they are used to further the kingdom of God. Therefore, it is important that the church becomes available to all. 

 

A Final Challenge

The next time you attend church on a Sunday morning, I challenge you to examine your environment. What is your church doing to be more accessible? If it is hard to come up with an answer, it is imperative that you use your voice to speak up. By doing this, we can all work together to pave the way for a more accessible and welcoming church, where everyone has a seat at the table. 

 

  1. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/pro-life/special-needs/when-disabilities-arent-welcome-at-church/

 

  1. https://www.access-board.gov/ada/guides/chapter-1-using-the-ada-standards/

One thought on “Disabilities and the Church: Is the Church Really Open to All?

  1. Love the image of building a longer table where everyone has is welcome.
    Keeping my eyes open, thanks for the encouragement Maeve!

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