The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
and People with Physical Disabilities
Building Accessible Congregations
Only as little as 25 years ago, you could wander down a city
sidewalk without seeing a person using a wheelchair. You could stop at the
corner and not find a curb cutóa ramp that slopes from sidewalk to street.
When a law mandating curb cuts was proposed in Wisconsin, proponents said the
ramps would make it possible for people in wheelchairs to negotiate streets and
sidewalks. But some communities opposed the law, claiming it wasnít needed
because "we donít see people in wheelchairs using our sidewalks."
The law passed despite the opposition, and today itís common to see people with physical disabilities everywhere you go. People with disabilities shop in
the mall, drive to work, eat at restaurants, go to church. And often itís
little things like curb cuts that make the world accessible to them.
If you donít see people with disabilities at your church or synagogue, perhaps
itís because there is a barrier preventing participation. For people with
visual impairments, you might need to provide an alternative to standard printed
materials. You might need an assistive listening device for a hard of hearing person, or a ramp to your door for a person using a wheelchair.
On the federal level, religious organizations are not covered in most instances by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 law that prohibits
discrimination against people with disabilities. Itís up to the organizations
themselves to see the need and respond to itóto provide the large-print
bulletin or the audio-loop system.
In Wisconsin, however, the state
building code (exit DHS) (Comm 50-64 and 69) has required accessible architectural
features in all places of worship since 1963. The only exceptions are to the
chancel and baptisteries.
The National Organization on Disability (NOD) can help you accommodate people
with disabilities through its Accessible Congregations Campaign. Information
about joining the campaign and about accessibility is available on the NOD
web site (exit DHS). You can contact NOD by writing: 910 Sixteenth Street, N.W. Suite
600, Washington, D.C. 20006, or by phoning 202-293-5960 (voice) or 202-293-5968
April 18, 2013