Tips for Disability Accommodation in Church and Ministry Settings

Here are some general tips for disability accommodation that can help your church be a place where everyone belongs and serves.

Celebrate gifts and share needs.

To embrace people with disabilities in your church, encourage a culture where gifts are celebrated, and identifying needs is welcomed. 

Invite church leaders to ask all congregation members what gifts they can share with the body of Christ, and what needs they may have. Many disabilities are hidden, and this is an accessible way to connect with everyone. Then, follow up with people with disabilities and their families as needed. They know their gifts (and needs) best! Work to identify the ways the church may be intentionally or unintentionally sidelining people with disabilities.

Involve people with disabilities in decisions.

It can be tempting to make decisions on behalf of people with disabilities, particularly if they have intellectual disabilities. It is important to ensure that people are directly involved with and leading their own planning, wherever possible. When praying for people, find out what that person is seeking prayer for. Sometimes it is presumed that people are seeking physical healing, when that may or may not be something they desire.

Establish a church accessibility policy.

Encourage your governing body to adopt a Church Policy on Accessibility if they have not done so already.

Suggested disability accomodations

General accomodations

  • Provide valet parking for people with disabilities and older church members, especially in inclement weather.
  • Arrange for willing volunteers to provide transportation to and from worship services and other church events. Access to an accessible van can be particularly helpful. 
  • Keep a supply of snack and juice items on hand, especially for people with diabetes.
  • Provide a willing person to take notes for others.
  • Encourage worship leaders to strive for multisensory worship, acknowledging the importance of texture, taste, color, and movement. This benefits everyone since people learn about and experience God in different ways.
  • Work to create a climate in your congregation where people are free to move and engage as best they are able. People with disabilities standing up or walking out, as needed, will not be seen as a disruption but as normal.
  • Some disabilities can be perceived as disruptive, and some can manifest in difficult behavioral situations. Some disruptions can be healthy and helpful, while others may need to be addressed out of a safety concern. Practice discernment and wisdom when considering how to avoid situations that might endanger someone, but also recognize that God’s intervention in history and in worship has often come as a kind of disruption to existing ways of doing things.

Accommodations for visual impairments

  • Ensure adequate lighting where your church meets.
  • Offer large print routinely for bulletins, song sheets, and other church publications (and Braille when requested in advance).
  • Have simple, non-busy backgrounds on print materials, websites, and all that is projected, including song lyrics.

Accommodations for hearing impairments

  • Make sermon manuscripts available to people before the worship service (so that someone who is hard of hearing can follow along).
  • Ensure that the sound system is in good working order.
  • Consider installing a hearing loop system.
  • Arrange for sign-language interpretation (when requested in advance).
  • Consider adding captions to all videos using a service like Rev.

Accommodations for allergies and chemical sensitivities

  • Encourage your congregation to become a scent-free zone to help people with asthma, emphysema, or others who have chemical sensitivities. Asking people to avoid wearing aftershave, cologne, or perfume to church is a good first step.
  • Offer grape juice and gluten-free/dairy-free/nut-free bread for those who need these alternatives to wine and regular bread during communion. Ensure these alternatives are clearly communicated as being available.
  • Ask your congregation members to label food at potlucks that is specifically prepared to avoid allergens as a way to assist other members in identifying friendly dishes.

Accommodations for physical impairments

  • Physical accommodations include accessible entrances and restrooms, as well as accessibility modifications to the sanctuary such as pew cutouts. Consider other areas of the building too, such as pulpits, stages, fellowship areas, education rooms, interior doors, and drinking fountains.
  • Keep accessible parking and entrances clear of snow, clean, smooth, and well lit. Remind all members to leave accessible parking spots for people who need them.
Everybody Belongs, Serving Together is a collaboration of RCA and CRCNA Disability Concerns, Christian Horizons, and Elim Christian Services.

All rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission, provided the source of the information is cited and the reproduction is not represented as an official version of the information produced. For all other uses, contact Reformed Church Press for permission. (questions@rca.org; 616-698-7071)