We are familiar with the hymn All Are Welcome which many of us sing regularly in our parishes. As followers of Christ, our mission is to proclaim the Gospel to ALL people and truly ensure that All Are Welcome. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly one in five Americans – over fifty-five million – has a disability. Thus, disability is in fact the norm for many Americans.
Pope Francis has addressed the pastoral role of the Church to people with disabilities encouraging the doors of our churches to be opened to welcome and include all people. At a jubilee Mass celebrated in Rome for people who are sick or live with disabilities, the Pope said, “Think of a priest who does not welcome everyone. What advice would the Pope give him? Close the doors of the church! Either everyone or no one.”
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) recently released a special report titled Disabilities in Parishes Across the United States: How Parishes in the United States Accommodate and Serve People with Disabilities. CARA found that the physical buildings of most U.S. parishes are accommodated to help people with physical disabilities enter into the building and have reserved parking. However, only half of parishes have a wheelchair accessible sanctuary, which limits how much parishioners with disabilities can serve in ministry roles at Mass.
The study found that parishes that have the most accommodations for people with disabilities are also the most likely to have at least one person with a disability serving on a parish committee or filling a ministerial role. It seems that active inclusion of those with disabilities in decision-making positions or positions where their perspective can be heard has a high correlation with whether the parish will accommodate parishioners with disabilities.
Accommodations for people with disabilities include, but are not limited to:
- ADA compliant and accessible church and parish buildings
- Reserved parking spaces
- Elevator in buildings
- Hearing loop system
- Assistive listening devices
- Sign language-interpreted Mass
- Gluten free hosts
- Designated seating
- Place for walkers and wheelchairs
- Large print materials
- Special classes for faith formation
Many parishes in the United States have made large strides to include people with disabilities. The reality is that there is still much to do before All Are Welcome is a reality. What are the next steps for your parish to welcome all?