When it comes to crafting a public building, there are always requirements to fit those who are handicapped or who have special needs. A church is no different, but those requirements are often just enough to allow space for those with special needs, but not enough to make them feel comfortable. In a church, you want to do both. Here are four ways to do so:
1. Make the Building Accessible
The standards for ADA accommodations require a myriad of changes to a traditional building layout, such as:
- Handicapped parking spaces that lead to a wheelchair-accessible dip in the sidewalk
- A ramp alternative to stairs leading to the front doors
- Elevators in buildings with more than one floor
- Extra room next to bench pews for a wheelchair to rest
- Wheelchair spaces that occupy at least 20 percent of the assembly room’s seating
- Wheelchair-accessible routes throughout the building, including hallway space and doors wide enough to accommodate
- Accessible facilities, including wheelchair-level drinking fountains and wide bathroom stalls
These are just a few of the many requirements that come with building a church with more accessible space. Your church contractor should know the requirements for making a church wheelchair-accessible, but you can check with your state for more details on the standards if you wish.
2. Establish Good Wayfinding
The guidelines above primarily cover the needs of those in wheelchairs, but there are also certain changes that can be made for parishioners with other mental health needs. Those with autism spectrum disorders, emotional issues, cognitive impairments, neurological disorders, developmental delays, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, speech delays, and physical impairments can all benefit from some church building improvements that make this group feel more at home and comfortable in your church’s environment.
Changing the physical atmosphere to help those struggling with cognitive, hearing, and sight impairments can be an excellent place to start. A good example of this is looking toward some modern adjustments that are being made to school buildings to improve the functionality for those with special needs.
“A big trend right now is school buildings that have a clarity of organization,” says Karen Braitmayer, an accessibility consultant involved with many of the changes taking place in school buildings. “Good wayfinding is useful to students with cognitive, hearing, and sight impairments.”
What she means by “good wayfinding” is ensuring that tall objects don’t block lines of sight and that different colors or textures can be used to identify different parts of the building. Things should be well lit, and there should be as few doors as possible to avoid disorientation when in a certain room.
3. Extras That Can Make a Big Difference
Aside from major structural changes as discussed above, there are many ways that a church building can improve the ease of use for those struggling with other mental and physical health issues.
For example, children and adults still wearing diapers as a result of a mental disorder or bodily dysfunction can benefit from adult-sized massage tables or similar features that allow caregivers to change diapers of any size. These are larger and more stable than the traditional pullout changing stations in bathrooms, which makes the entire process easier.
Children with special mental health needs may require the protection of a special Dutch door that keeps kids inside during Sunday school lessons and other assemblies. This is particularly helpful when instructors are handling the needs of several children at once and may not notice if a single child slips out.
There may also be need of a quiet, peaceful room where those with mental disorders or sensory issues can go to calm down when things begin to get too stressful. This room shouldn’t be too large so as to avoid making the person feel overwhelmed, but it also shouldn’t be too small so as to avoid claustrophobia. It should also include soft lighting and a few soft chairs. Including a couple of stuffed animals or books can also promote a healthier well being for the child.
4. Develop Programs to Welcome Special Needs
Now that you’ve developed a building where those with special needs can thrive, it’s important to include more welcoming activities that can accommodate those who can’t participate the way that other children and adults can. Here are a few suggestions:
- Host Buddy Break: Buddy Break is a free program for organizations to use in which youth ages 0-20 can attend a weekly get-together to make new friends, play games, participate in crafts, sing songs, and engage in other activities. Members of the organization are there to facilitate it, and it helps your parishioners with special needs, as well as their families, to feel more comfortable when attending your church.
- Offer an extra room for family worshipping: Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable for families with special needs members to worship in the main auditorium, particularly if their child struggles with a mental health condition. You can make them more comfortable by providing a small room for them to sit and watch the service on a monitor. This is often best for those with cognitive or sensory disorders since large crowds can spur an episode.
- Have a special needs volunteer program: This allows members of your parish to get involved and perform service for those with special needs and their families. Essentially, this program will provide a buddy for each parishioner with special needs to help them to listen quietly to the service and Sunday school sessions so their parents can enjoy the services without interruption.
- Provide a separate classroom for those with special needs: If you have a large group of those with disabilities or special needs, consider adding an additional room onto the building for a separate class system. That way, you can have special-needs professionals administering the Sunday school services so that their families can have a much-needed break and enjoy the spiritual respite in their own classes without distraction.
Share Your Needs with Churches by Daniels
When it’s time to begin adding more accessibility to your church building, Churches by Daniels can help. We’re dedicated to helping you construct and design your church building so that it can accommodate all parishioners, no matter their mental or physical condition. For more information about the services we offer, contact us today!