Monday, 19 November 2012

Idiots Guide to making church accessible….Worship

When we talk about accessibility, the obvious things are wheelchair ramps and lifts, but there is so much more!!

By accessible we mean more than physical access to a building:

Can those attending your church access worship? The teaching? The coffee? Do they feel guilty because of terminology?  That’s just a few of the things we can think about when we look at making church accessible. Is your website accessible too? Is there information about how those with disabilities can access what you do?

In this post, I’m only going to look at one aspect of accessibility. I may cover other areas later.

Let’s look at ‘sung worship’:

Most will think this is just down to being able to read the words on the screen. Yes, there are issues there, but there are others too.

Do you provide large/giant print words? 
Think about the following:
  • Are they large enough?
  • Are they in a sans serif font? Serif fonts are difficult to read for those with visual problems and also for those who have dyslexia
  • Have you used italics? It’s best not to - they aren’t as clear to read (Yes I know I’ve used them here!)
  • If the song/hymn covers two pages, have you put the chorus on both pages? Having to turn the page back and find your place on the page again is difficult.
  • Are they the ‘right’ words? Some hymns have variations, and some have the same title as another song. If the large print words are prepared by a different person to the one doing the presentation slides, sometimes the wrong song or words make their way to the large print folder!
  • Is the page ‘clean’ or does it have the look of a poor photo copy with bits and blobs over it or fuzzy words? Having these things on the page can make them difficult to read.

How do you introduce worship?
Think about the following:
Are the first words something along the lines of “We’ll all stand to sing….”. Well, actually, some of your congregation may not be able to, and often find phrases like that unhelpful. Many of my disabled friends really appreciate something along the lines of “Stand if you’re able”, and if you’re the sort of church who “remain standing for the next song” it’s helpful to say “If you would like to remain standing….”  Inviting people to worship with suggestions that they may like to stand is much more helpful.

Announcing the next song/hymn is also helpful, or else those unable to see the screens will find it just as the song is finishing.

Do you have a fixed place where those who use wheelchairs or have poor mobility have to sit, or do you give choice?
Think about the following:
  • If those who need to be seated for worship and use screens to access song words, be aware of those standing in front of them - they won’t be able to see past them. 
  • If they opt to sit at the end of a row so they can see screens whilst seated, and you are from a church where people move around and raise hands in worship - look out for those who move into the aisle and don’t realise they are blocking the view of those who are seated.
  • For some wheelchair users or those with mobility difficulties, sitting at the front isn’t always the solution, as looking up at a screen gives neck pain. (Plus, for those with complex syndromes or hidden disabilities the brightness of the screen can also be a problem)
  • Be sensitive to those for whom volume means pain - not just to the ears, but also the base notes pounding through their body. Give advise as to the best place to sit if you know this could be a problem.

There is also specific advice for those who have autistic spectrum disorders and worship, which really needs to be a separate post. Do ask the person what is best if you have someone who is finding access to sung worship difficult due to autism. You could also look at the Oxford diocese booklet "Welcoming those with Autism and Asperger Syndrome in our Churches and Communities" downloadable here

As an aside:
If you put the songs being sung that day in a folder for those who can’t see the screens, how about putting the bible reading and responsive prayers in there too?

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