Recently Rebecca Frech drew attention to the accessibility problems that many of us still face in parishes throughout the country.
What’s perhaps most surprising is that it’s not just old buildings that are a problem. Even some brand new or newly renovated structures don’t seem to take accessibility into account (and, it should be noted, churches do not, by law, have to). Using her own newly renovated Parish as an example, Frech notes:
Those beautiful hand-scraped doors impress visitors with their obviously-expensive weight. They set the tone for the worship space that lies beyond.
There are nine doorways into the church. All are beautiful. All are heavy. All are self-closing. None are handicapped accessible.
At no time in the planning of this new and expensive building was accessibility considered to be a priority, and it shows. The automatic door buttons which would have remedied the problem were an additional expense that was not deemed a priority.
The interior is just as imposing, and just as equally inaccessible.
The cathedral ceilings soar, the stained glass glitters, the acoustics are perfection; and yet there is nowhere in this entire church, which seats over 1,000 easily, for a person in a wheelchair to sit. The non-ambulatory members of the parish have the choice of placing themselves either in the middle of an aisle, behind a pillar, or behind the very last pew. Parishioners with walkers have nowhere to place them that is out of the way. The woman at the 10am Mass who has a service dog seats him in the aisle out of necessity.
This, unfortunately, isn’t unique. A commentor relates:
My bishop spent millions having elaborate redecorations done to the cathedral, and neglected to put an access ramp onto the front steps. Now he is fundraising for a $250,000 ramp, to go with the new expensive look of the place. Its practically blackmail, a lot of his big donors are the frail elderly who can’t make it up the steps.
Now, I know churches are not required to comply with the ADA, but I can’t imagine how they could have overlooked (or, God forbid, deliberately left out) something as basic as a way for people with disabilities to access the building at all.
I’ve traveled a lot in the last 15 years and it’s always interesting — and sometimes frustrating — to see how different parishes accommodate their disabled members/visitors. Doors can definitely be a problem and I’ve been to several churches where I was not able to sit with my friends and family. But, I think bathrooms tend to be where I have trouble the most
In fact, the day before I read Rebecca’s post I went to Mass at the Cathedral here in Pensacola and was not able to even get through the bathroom door! When I asked if there was an accessible restroom somewhere, I was told that I would have to go to the parish hall next door…and that they would have to unlock it for me first.
Frech concludes her post with a list of several recommendations, including:
- Those push-button door openers on at least one set of doors would be amazing!
- If you can’t afford the $2,500 approx. per door, then please dismantle or slow down the self-closing mechanisms. Having a door slam into you when you’re not in a position to catch it is dangerous.
- If that doesn’t work, prop the door open.
- Have door greeter/opener people as a last resort. People leave or wander off. It’s not entirely their fault, stuff happens, it just means that the handicapped can’t get in/out until help arrives.
- Handicapped parking with room for a chair lift is a must. This is a huge need especially in older or urban parishes where that may not have been a consideration when the parking lot was built. The absence of room to load/unload a wheelchair means that our family cannot attend your parish.
- Handicapped entrances near the handicapped parking. Can you imagine having to go all the way around the church through the rain when you’re sitting down (and your hands are getting filthy from the mud and rain) because of someone’s poor planning? Been there, done that. It’s really no fun.
- Handicapped accessible bathrooms near the handicapped entrance. Sometimes you’ve just really gotta go!
- Handicapped stalls and hand rails do not make a bathroom accessible. Ask whether or not a person with physical limitations get in and out of the door, and remedy what’s wrong. (Is it heavy? Is there too sharp of an angle to get a wheelchair around?)
- If the door is difficult to open, it needs to be fixed.
- If it’s feasible to remove it completely without compromising modesty, that’s a really cheap fix.
- Ramps need to end flush with the sidewalk. Powerchairs can’t go over those bumps, and it takes a bit of coordination for someone in a manual chair to make it. Please find a way to smooth it out.
- Wide aisles that have room for a chair to fit in the Communion line for anyone who wants to receive with their family and/or the rest of the congregation.
- A cutout or niche in at least one pew where a chair, walker, service dog, or stroller could easily fit.
- At least one outlet in the sanctuary where oxygen tanks or equipment could be plugged in in the case of low batteries or an emergency.
- Please remember that the sanctuary isn’t the whole church. If you’re having doughnuts in the hall, is there a way for everyone to get there? Is there an elevator or chair lift available if the hall is up or downstairs?
- Remember that people with physical limitations aren’t trying to be annoying or exasperating. They have the same need for the Sacraments that the rest of us do. We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to make sure it’s feasible for everyone to be able to receive them.
- It doesn’t have to happen over night. Slow and steady progress is still progress and is welcoming because it shows concern for the well-being of the differently-abled.
Along with some of these structural accommodations, something I’ve often wondered about is the kind of training ushers get on how to treat people with disabilities who come to Mass. For example, it is nice when they actually ask if I want communion brought back to me instead of just assuming. I usually prefer to go up with the congregation if I can.
What do you think? What do you see? Are churches doing enough to provide access for handicapped individuals? What more could they be doing?
Personally, I tend to keep quiet and give most churches the benefit of the doubt, assuming they’re doing what they can within their means to accommodate the disabled. But Rebecca’s post encouraged me to try to be a little more proactive in suggesting where things can be improved when I come across them.
Understandably, cost is an issue with many of these things and churches are not obligated to comply with ADA regulations. But, if anyone should be doing all they can to make people with disabilities feel welcome and valued, it’s the Church. Her mission is, after all, to spread the Good News everywhere, to everyone. What does it say about her commitment to this mission when a segment of the population are literally prevented from opening her doors and being an active part of her community?
**Update** I will be discussing this on Catholic radio this afternoon with Mike Allen. Click here to listen live at 5:15 pm Eastern.
The Vatican-hosted international interreligious colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Women started in Rome yesterday with an address by Pope Francis. The purpose of the conference, which ends tomorrow, is to show the beauty of the complementarity of men and women, which has existed across cultures and religions.
The Holy Father began his address by dwelling on the word “complementarity”. Christians, he said, “find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole-everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each.” Reflecting on “complementarity”, he said, “is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation.”
Complementarity “is at the root of marriage and family” and “will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children.”
“In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis,” Pope Francis said. The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”
This family crisis has also produced a “crisis of human ecology, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection.” The Holy Father called on participants to, “foster a new human ecology and advance it” by first to promoting the “fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.”
He noted that the family is the foundation of society and that “children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
Recalling what he wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis said that the contribution of marriage to society is “indispensable”; that it “transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple” (n. 66).
Finally, he urged participants to life up the, “permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people, who represent our future. That they do not give in to the “poisonous mentality of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love.”
This understanding of the family, he stressed, is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact”, a reality that transcends ideological labels.
Accompanying Pope Francis and a number of speakers from 14 religions and 23 countries is a six-part video series on men and women and marriage the world over. Below is part one “On the Meaning of Marriage” (be sure to turn on closed captioning):
See more: TOB Tuesday
At the National Right to Life Convention this summer I caught up with Dr. David Prentice, Senior Fellow for Life Sciences at Family Research Council, and chatted with him a bit about the current status of the great “stem cell debate”, how scientists are tinkering with human life these days and what, if any, positive signs he sees for trying to stop this train at some point.
Only audio this time:
The Vatican is hosting an international interreligious colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Women from Nov 17-19.
The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium is a gathering of leaders and scholars from many religions across the globe, to examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.
Witnesses will draw from the wisdom of their religious tradition and cultural experience as they attest to the power and vitality of the complementary union of man and woman. It is hoped that the colloquium be a catalyst for creative language and projects, as well as for global solidarity, in the work of strengthening the nuptial relationship, both for the good of the spouses themselves and for the good of all who depend upon them.
Each session will feature one of six short films on men and women and marriage the world over. Below is a trailer for the series:
Details about the agenda, the presenters, the films, and media credentialing can be found at the colloquium’s website Humanum.
According to official figures released in recent years in the UK, over 30 embryos are created for every ONE baby born by IVF.
To help personalize those staggering numbers a bit, “Jenny Vaughn” (a pseudonym) shares her journey through IVF, which involved creating 31 tiny human beings in a lab.
The doctor had retrieved 38 good eggs, of which 31 are fertilized. Over the next week, 16 of our embryonic children die and are discarded. Thirteen are cryogenically frozen, mostly two to a vial.
These newly formed, microscopic human beings were then graded for quality and we were encouraged to discard “low-grade” embryos that had little chance of survival. But because we couldn’t fully stifle our doubts about the wrongness of IVF, we insisted that all our viable embryos be preserved.
Read more as Vaughn, herself a product of IVF, explains her spiritual awakening and desperately trying to give every one of her children a chance at life…only to have just one survive to be raised by her and her husband.
It’s a heartbreaking story, but an important one. Most people are clueless about IVF’s incredibly high death toll. They’re fed myths about the wonders of modern reproductive science, believing that they will easily become pregnant after their first IVF treatment.
I’ve also heard IVF advocates tout its necessity not just for the purpose of infertile people being able to have a biological child of their own, but because adoption is usually so expensive, costing anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000, and so full of red tape that it can take years to finally welcome a child into your home, if you ever do.
The reality, however, is that, like Vaughn, most women will go through multiple IVF cycles before an embryo will even attach itself in the womb, let alone survive until birth. And those babies aren’t cheap — nearly $15,000 per cycle.
Hardly a bargain compared to adoption. And with “success rates” as low as 40% in women under 35 and falling from there the older women get, coming away with a child is even less of a guarantee.
Going back to Vaughn, the most interesting part of her journey to me was when she mentioned going on a post-abortion retreat as part of her healing process:
Earlier [that] year, I went on a retreat for post-abortive parents, since I felt that what I’d done to my babies through IVF was similar. I felt mixed vibes from others there, possibly because most people don’t understand the complexity of IVF. But if life starts at conception, then you can have sorrow and regret for denying your children life through IVF, the same as you do with abortion.
I suddenly understood just how sacred every single person is to God. I realized how selfish my decisions had been in allowing my babies to be violently injected into my uterus after they’d endured the indignity of freezing and thawing. Yes, the violence paralleled that of abortion.
The similarities were further brought home to me when I read over the IVF and cryopreservation contracts for the first time a month later. I felt brokenhearted and ashamed as I read the dehumanizing language describing that most sacred process of creating human life.
Our babies were described as “cryopreserved material,” “concepti,” and “orphaned specimens.” Another section gave the clinic permission to take “Title” (ownership) of our embryos if we stopped the process, as if our children were commodities like cars. This consumerist mentality, combined with the emphasis on “cost effective treatment,” is what makes it acceptable for IVF children to be donated for research, abandoned, discarded, and even aborted through “selective reduction” when too many embryos stay alive after transfer.
The contract also stated that, “It is rare for an embryo to not survive thawing.” Half of our babies didn’t survive thawing. And, “Occasionally, an embryo is not found in the vial due to the nature of embryos to stick to the vial or pipette.” What incredible dangers we’d exposed our children to! Only one phrase in the entire contract spoke to the humanity of our children by calling them babies.
Being created in a lab and then frozen violates the dignity of these tiny human beings. Thawing and discarding is killing. Reducing women to incubators and men to sperm donors is also undignified. Children have a right to be the fruit of their parents’ loving union, not products to be bought, sold, donated, or trashed.
I wish more pro-lifers would see this connection. Would realize that IVF is just as much a human rights tragedy as abortion is.
You can also listen to Vaughn’s story in this exclusive CatholicSistas podcast.
Happy first feast day, papa!
ICYMI: earlier this year I talked to Mike Allen about how John Paul II helped lay the foundation for building a culture of life. We didn’t have time to cover everything, but I think we managed hit on several important points.
Click the play button below to listen to the show. I come on about 19 minutes past the hour.
For more, see JP II and the Culture of Life.
Saint JP II, pray for us!
The Population Research Institute’s new video addresses a form of fertility management that is cost-free, pill-free, and free of coercion.
The latest newsletter for the Center for Genetics and Society is out.
Lots of good stuff in here — especially about the recent decision by Facebook and Apple to offer their female employees a $20,000 benefit to freeze their eggs for later use with in vitro fertilization.
Check it out!
“For I was a stranger…and you welcomed me.”
An excerpt from When Did We See You, Lord, by Bishop Robert Baker and the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, fitting for the Fall 40 Days for Life Campaign currently underway:
Recent Issues of both Time and Newsweek seem to point to a majority of Americans finally coming around to realize that life begins at conception. Of course, this has been the teaching of the Catholic Church all along. One can only hope this is a sign that American society may be beginning to welcome the “stranger” who is the infant in the womb to the category of human personhood, acknowledging the human dignity and civil rights denied the infant in the womb by Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Roe v. Wade made the fetus out to be a predator, a threat to family happiness, another potential mouth to feed who might hamper the health and well being of other family members already there. There would simply not be enough food and clothing and square footage of housing space to accommodate one more human being. The infant in the womb, the stranger in our midst, must go.
A friend of mine…described a great success story he witnessed at a pro-life prayer vigil in front of an abortion clinic…There, he saw a pregnant woman guided away from the destruction of the infant in her womb by another woman, patiently holding a picture of a beautiful baby. Their conversation led the expectant mother to decide to investigate alternatives to abortion with the people at another clinic, a pro-life clinic.
That second woman overcame fear of the unknown with an attitude of welcome — and saved a life. May our time in prayer help us to contemplate the face of Christ int he unborn, and to see that in the unseen infant is a stranger who longs to be welcomed into our world.
God, our Father, You are the author of life and the defender and protector of the innocent and defenseless human life in the womb. Help us to welcome that most unwelcome of strangers in our American society, the innocent unborn. Because we have become so gluttonous as individuals, families and society, we have left no space or room — in our homes, our society or our lives — for this stranger in our midst. Now that we Americans have more to go around, we have less room for children in our midst. Help us, Lord, to see children as the joy of our lives…not hindrances, enemies, obstacles, or strangers.
I totally missed this news from a few weeks ago. Apparently Jeopardy superstar, Ken Jennings, was under twitter fire for a comment he made about people in wheelchairs.
Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.
— Ken Jennings (@KenJennings) September 22, 2014
Nothing sadder than smart people saying really dumb things.
Hey, Ken, I (and several people I know) resemble that remark! And you know what?
It helps to be willing to see the person and not just the disability.