Disability & Access
Help for parishes
As children of God, we have a new dignity and God calls us to fullness of life.
(Introduction to the Common Worship Rite of Baptism 2006)
The Revd Tim Goode, Diocesan Disability Adviser, has prepared a series of papers to help parishes with all aspects of accessibility.
The three documents, ready for download, are written to provide information, support and advice on areas of disability and access and encourage us as we look to improve the provision we provide as churches within the diocese.
The first document is the Southwark Diocese Disability and Inclusion Policy which enshrines the principle that all people employed or accessing services offered by the Diocese of Southwark are treated equally.
The second document is called 'All One in Christ', a parish resource pack on disability and access, which is offered as a tool for parishes as a means to open up and inform a discussion on a theology of disability.
The third document is 'An Access Appraisal of Church Buildings.' This document contains some practical advice on ways in which churches might assess their buildings and facilities in order to create a better environment for people with disabilities.
How does it affect you?
The provisions of the Equality Act 2010 (and previously the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA)) have received considerable publicity and parishes need to be aware of their responsibilities under the Act. This page aims to give a brief overview of the main points of the Act as it affects the provision of 'services' (not just worship) by churches.
The Act affects anyone who provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public, whether paid or free. Except where health and safety regulations would be breached, it will be illegal to refuse to serve a disabled person or to offer them a service which is inferior to that offered to others, or offered on different terms.
The introduction of the Act has established the principle of access to all buildings, including churches and church halls, as a civil right. The Church has always been aware of the presence of people with disabilities, but this has not been reflected in the way that many churches have been built to make powerful architectural statements. The challenge for those who are responsible for church buildings and their surroundings is to reshape those environments without losing the spirituality which gave rise to them initially.
Since October 1999 organisations (including churches) must have made reasonable changes to policies, procedures and practices, and also have taken reasonable steps to provide auxiliary aids to ensure equality of access to services for disabled people.
Auxiliary aids include, for example, portable ramps for wheelchair access, induction loops for hearing aids, large print service sheets and books, clear signage, etc..
Since 2004 organisations (including churches) have had to consider which physical features of a building inhibit use of services by disabled people, and need to take reasonable steps to remove the feature, to alter, to provide a way of avoiding it, or to provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service available.
For churches this could include looking at the access to the church and parts of the interior, use of toilets, notice boards, churchyards, etc..
What to do
Ensure that the PCC is aware of its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act.
Carry out an access audit of your church - you may wish to do this in conjunction with local disabled people and your inspecting architect.
Identify the areas that need attention in the short term (i.e. where auxiliary aids can be used) and in the long term (i.e. involving physical changes to the fabric of the building).
Discuss these matters with your inspecting architect as soon as possible so that the PCC can begin to consider how and when such work might be carried out (e.g. included in some regular maintenance programme).
Parishes must take notice of the requirements of the Act and consider how they can meet its requirements.
Any work done to the church building (including the installation of induction loops) cannot be carried out until a faculty is granted. Some work (e.g. ramps, toilets, etc.) will also be subject to secular controls (i.e. planning permission and/or building regulations).
Useful Information and Contacts
Widening the Eye of the Needle - Access to Church Buildings for People with Disabilities (2nd Edition), by John Penton. (Church House Publishing, ISBN 9780715175897)
Easy Access to Historic Buildings (English Heritage)
Access to Historic Church Buildings, by Robin Kent