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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Barriers

Effective January 1, 2012, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires that all organizations with public spaces, including churches, have policies in place as to how they will offer support to persons with disabilities. On December 9, 2011 Bishop Mike Hewitt, MCFO for Canada East, sent information to all pastors and CFOs concerning the new law and how its requirements should be implemented.

The new law does not yet require congregations to modify their buildings to make them more accessible for persons with disabilities, although it makes it clear that mandate will come in time. What is required now is that we have policies in place as to how we will offer support to persons who are differently-abled, and that all staff including volunteers have been trained on the policies.

Here is one example. Persons who come to church with a guide animal must be admitted along with the animal. Where the animal is prohibited because of health requirements (e.g. a kitchen where food is being prepared), alternate provision must be made to allow access for the disabled person.

Once the policy is in place, every person who is ever likely to deal with such a situation must have training on the policy in place. The need for the training should be obvious since it clearly would not make sense to have a policy written down and then have greeters at the door saying, “Oh, you can’t bring that dog in here!”

Of course the law is not just about guide animals but includes all disabilities, such as sight, hearing, mobility, and mental or psychological handicaps. The impact of the new law is that congregations must think about the needs of a disabled person in advance, and have policies in place as to how they will assist.

Meeting the requirements of the law is one thing, but kindness and a thoughtful approach may take us far beyond legal mandates. There are probably many people who would love to participate in church, but the physical of psychological barriers make it too difficult to do so. This includes many seniors as their strength and physical abilities decline. A congregation that is sensitive to the needs of the disabled and trained in how to make their participation more enjoyable may go far beyond the requirements of the law, breaking down barriers that the law cannot anticipate.

A recent blog from the Alban Institute entitled There Are No Barriers to God's Love has some very worthwhile reflections on this issue. You can find that article by clicking here. I recommend it for your thoughtful reading.

Posted by Carman

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