Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. So it was fitting that I started off the day attending the first meeting of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC), organized by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). As participants got to know each other, discussed legislative priorities, and talked about accessibility as a matter of human rights, I was thankful for this interfaith group, and thankful for the community of Unitarian Universalists – who I had the honor to represent – who are striving to make our congregations and communities ever more accessible to all. Having just visited one such congregation this weekend and seen first hand the love that went into making the sanctuary accessible to everyone, I am very pleased to present the following guest post:
Kevin McGown, a member of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland (in California), shares his perspective on his church’s commitment to accessibility.
I love my church, First Unitarian Church of Oakland. It is a community that encourages its members to grow in awareness, and as a community we work to lead by example. Right actions often teach more than good sermons. We just had a wonderful example of this.
For several months we have been moved out of our sanctuary, instead celebrating worship in the big adjoining social space. This was necessitated by the long-delayed earthquake retrofit of our lovely, but previously unreinforced, masonry sanctuary. The work was finished just before Thanksgiving and we moved back in. There were many reasons for gratitude. First, of course, was the simple fact of being back in our spiritual home. We were also very grateful that so much thought and effort went into making our space as accessible as it can be.
Although we had long had some ramp access and some improvised solutions to make almost all of our space accessible, the solutions weren’t all good ones and could sometimes be difficult to manage, or could make one feel like a limited participant. During the design phase interested persons, including wheelchair riders and other experts, were consulted in efforts to improve access. Ramps were redesigned, an entrance was completely redone with a lift installed, and lighting was added for those like me who have low vision issues. One of the last steps was that before the seats were reinstalled and bolted down, they were arranged and then one of our wheelchair riding members went all around the room, checking out all of the corners, the space between rows, and so on, to make sure that the room was all readily maneuverable.
For me the coolest part came from a change that wasn’t actually intended just as an access fix. Part of the floor in the front of the sanctuary was raised for several reasons. One effect was to decrease the grade of the aisle as it climbs toward the back of the room. As I walked it the first time I thought to myself how much easier it will now be for those with mobility limitations of any kind to move up and down that aisle. And the cool part is not just the fix, but the fact that I thought about that. By thinking and talking about access issues, my community instilled this thinking in me. Many of us have a new awareness of the importance of thinking about, and planning for, the details of access in a community and a facility that we want to be open and welcoming to everyone.