Room at the Table for Everyone: Designing for Accessibility

Do you remember the story in the Bible about the paralytic that had to get lowered through a hole in the roof in order to encounter Jesus?

“They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven... I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” – Mark 2:2-5, 11

How blessed this man was to have friends that would be willing to carry him to the top of a building and make the audacious decision to tear a hole in the roof so that he could meet the Son of God. Their determination and resourcefulness led to his life being changed: physically and spiritually.

The truth is, in many church facilities today, the paralytic would still need his band of brothers to find a clever way into the worship center in order to hear the Word preached. This is often because handicap accessibility was simply an afterthought during the initial architectural design. Many churches were built at a time before handicap accessibility was considered a major design issue. Therefore, many of today’s facilities are not easily accessible to those with physical disabilities. Whether it involves steps/ramps at the main entry approach, size of bathroom stalls, access to the choir platform, or a safe route to the building from the parking lot or bus stop, those with physical disabilities can find it very difficult or even discouraging to participate in regular church activities.

In the last few years, the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines have been updated and expanded to include almost all aspects of the built environment. While religious institutions are not legally bound to these guidelines, more and more local building codes are including accessibility standards into their text. For the purposes of code compliance and even insurance liability particulars, fully handicap accessible facilities are a wise idea. But even more than that, consider it another means of the Body of Christ to reach out. Jesus desired for all, including the “least of these,” to be at the table, in order to partake in the ecclesia.

In Luke 14, Jesus challenged one of the Pharisees, saying:

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Don’t waste an opportunity to show your community that the Gospel is for everybody, especially the “poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” After all, the most exciting testimonies in the Bible involved these people. What a privilege to enable those with physical disabilities access to words of truth, living water, and an encounter with Jehovah Rapha, our healer.

 

- Barry Morris, Architect, Visioneering Studios