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Disability & Accessibility

The resources below answer the most frequently asked questions the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) receives on this topic. We invite you to contact us at access @ uua.org if you have questions or if you need further assistance.

Accessibility

  • Guidelines for Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregations (PDF, 31 pages)
    • NEW! This document is a proposed accessibility policy addressing the inclusion of all people (whatever their ability may be) in activities and physical accessibility to facilities of the Unitarian Universalist Association and it's member congregations
  • A Brief Guide to Accessibility (PDF)
  • Accessibility Handbook (PDF, 78 pages)
    A comprehensive accessibility resource for congregations, developed in partnership with the United Methodist Church. Chapters include: introduction and information about specific disabilities and etiquette; an accessibility audit of a church’s building, grounds, etc. based on ADA guidelines; agencies/organizations, manufacturers, and print/online resources around accessibility; and a glossary.

Equual Access: A UUA Affinity Organization

Equual Access promotes equality and access for Unitarian Universalists (UUs) with disabilities. People with disabilities, our families, friends, and allies started this membership organization dedicated to ensuring that our faith community warmly welcomes all people including those of us with disabilities (from the Equual Access website).  

Read their reflection paper "Mental Health Issues and Recommendations" (PDF, 30 pages).

Ableism, Anti-Ableism, Accessibility, Disability Awareness

  • Disability Awareness—Do It Right! Mary Johnson, editor (2006), Louisville, KY.
    The Ragged Edge Online community offers this all-in-one how-to guide, with tips, techniques and handouts for successful Disability Awareness events.
  • Disability Is Natural, Kathie Snow.
    Kathie Snow has an extensive website about disability that includes information about “people first language;” redefining disability; inclusive education; strategies for success, and other positive resources about people with disabilities.
  • Disability Etiquette, Devorah Greenstein
    The UUA Office of Accessibility Concerns has several resources about disability. This one offers key points that make relationships with someone who has a disability easier and more relaxed. Also see Some Disability Etiquette Tips for Greeting People.
  • Welcoming Children with Special Needs: A Guidebook for Faith Communities, (PDF, 302 pages) Sally Patton (2004), Boston, MA, UUA.
    An empowering resource for accepting special needs children into congregations. Includes information on common physical, mental and emotional disabilities and disorders, plus teacher training guidelines and strategies and techniques for inclusion. Designed for religious educators, ministers, lay leaders, and parents.
  • Teachable Moments (PDF, 12 pages), Devorah Greenstein and Sofia Betancourt (2005), Identity-based Ministries Staff Group, UUA.
    An assortment of activity sheets to begin in-depth conversations about our first principle. These puzzles and coloring pages are not meant as ways to keep children busy, or to distract them during a service, rather to provide activities that can be part of any lesson plan in diversity education.

Accessibility: Buildings, Meetings, and Fund-raising

  • Removing Barriers (PDF, 68 pages): Planning Meetings That Are Accessible to All Participants, North Carolina Office on Disability and Health (2005), Chapel Hill, NC, University of North Carolina.
    Basic guidelines and strategies to help organizations make their meetings accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities. The guide includes illustrations and a checklist to aid meeting planners in creating an inclusive event.
  • Accessible Faith (PDF, 56 pages): A Technical Guide for Accessibility in Houses of Worship, Elizabeth Patterson and Neal Vogel (2004), Retirement Research Foundation, Chicago, IL.
    A guide for congregations interested in enhancing accessibility for people with disabilities. Information includes ways to navigate building-related code requirements; identify user-friendly design solutions; provide technical guidance.
  • Money and Ideas (PDF, 38 pages): Creative Approaches to Congregational Access, Alban Institute (2001), with the National Organization on Disability, Bethesda, MD.
    Faced with the difficulty of raising money for accessibility, congregations around the country have learned to think of creative ways to raise money; think about what funds are necessary and how to approach the overall task of welcoming children and adults who have disabilities.
  • Accessibility Touchstones (PDF, 17 pages): Eight Useful Resources for Your Congregation’s Accessibility Journey, Devorah Greenstein, Identity-based Ministries Staff Group, UUA.
    Accessibility is a journey, and these eight brief resources, developed in collaboration with UUs with disabilities, include all sorts of information to help a congregation as it moves along the path to becoming an inclusive congregation.

Disability 101: Introduction

The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines a disability as a "...physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity." Examples of major life activities include seeing, hearing, walking, thinking, breathing, speaking, and learning, among many others. There are visible disabilities in which a physical disability is obvious (someone is using a wheelchair, canes, or an oxygen tank, for example) or invisible (someone has a learning, behavior, or psychiatric disability, diabetes, heart disease, chemical sensitivities, or epilepsy, among many others).

Nearly 50 million people (1 in 5 of the U.S. population) in the United States have a disability. As the baby boomer population ages, the numbers are expected to climb to 100 million or 40 percent of the population. People of all ages, races, sexual orientations, cultures, economic and social backgrounds, and religions may be born with or acquire a disability at any point in their life. Fewer than 15% of disabilities occur at birth; over 85% are acquired over a lifetime as a result of illness, accident, war, trauma, age, or genetics, just to name a few of the causes of disability.

Many people with disabilities are able to use devices to reduce the limitations resulting from their disability; wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids, language boards, computers, medications and insulin, and oxygen tanks all increase the level of freedom and independence for people with mobility, speech, systemic, and breathing limitations. For many people with invisible or learning, behavioral, or psychiatric disabilities, social and environmental "devices" may increase freedom and independence such as assignment of a buddy, sound systems, proper lighting, social cueing, and use of non-toxic cleaning products.

These are only a few examples. For everyone, though, whether having a disability or not, the environment in which we live, learn, play, sing, work, and meditate, reflect, and pray must feel "welcome" in order for everyone to grow and thrive.

Join the Discussion

  • Subscribe to the Access-L Email List
    An open forum to meet other people with and without disabilities who are interested in matters relating to accessibility, ableism, and ability/disability.

For more information contact access @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, March 6, 2014.

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