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Make your church disability-friendly and accessible; earn a badge

Moran UMC's parking lot illustrates fully accessible parking.  Courtesy of UM Disability. October 2019
Moran UMC's parking lot illustrates fully accessible parking. Courtesy of UM Disability. October 2019

Wesley United Methodist Church in Georgetown, Delaware, and Moran United Methodist Church in Spokane, Washington, are the first two churches to receive The United Methodist Church’s Disability-Friendly and Accessible gold badge.  Ebenezer and Bethany Mission United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and Hillcrest United Methodist Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, are the first to claim a silver badge.

The badges recognize of each congregation’s work to create an inclusive space where people with and without disabilities can worship and serve together.  Badge awards are based on a congregation’s scores on the revised Annual Accessibility Audit for United Methodist churches. Does your church qualify for a badge?

The Disability-Friendly and Accessible Church badge initiative was launched in April 2019 by the DisAbility Ministries Committee (DMC) of The United Methodist Church. Annual conferences adopting the program will find it provides an objective way of selecting host churches for district and conference events.  Local churches will find it helpful in prioritizing the next steps as they work to become barrier-free.

Some audit items are based on meeting the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but others reflect best practices in hospitality for members, guests and community groups using the building.  Many items are not costly, e.g. observing an annual Disability Awareness Sunday, listing accessibility measures on the church website, and having companions or “buddies” available for children or adults who need a little extra support to navigate worship or church school.  More low-cost suggestions are found in the handout “Ideas for Becoming Intentionally Disability-Friendly on a Tight Budget.

Churches that meet badge criteria and commit to ongoing accessibility improvements can upload the badge for use on their website and other media. Congregations apply for Bronze and Silver badges based on self-report of their Annual Accessibility Audit scores.  Gold badge items include having a barrier-free chancel and automatic door opener.  Bonus gold points are earned for taking measures to meet specific needs of the congregation and community. Gold status is conferred after a review by someone designated by the annual conference disability committee or the DisAbilities Ministries Committee.

Per The Book of Discipline 2016 (Paragraph 2533.6), church trustees shall conduct an annual of their buildings, grounds, and facilities, drawing on others in the congregation to assist them.  The annual trustees Charge Conference report asks whether the audit has been carried out.  The General Council on Finance and Administration has adopted the DMC audit and posted this new version on their website under Local Church Forms. The brand-new, fully-fillable PDF version that can be used on tablets is also on the GCFA and DMC sites.  Updating your audit in future years will be quick and painless!  For more information check the Accessibility Audit page on the DMC website or write to the committee at [email protected].

-- Deaconess Lynn Swedberg, OTR/L, Disability Consultant, on behalf of the DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church, umcdmc.org