The Americans with Disabilities Act turned 25 years old this past Sunday, the same day my son with autism turned 7. As we celebrated his birthday, I reflected back on the last seven years—he was not yet two when we knew he was different, and three when he was diagnosed. Our lives were already changing direction when he was born, but now it was clear the trajectory was different than what we imagined when he was an infant.
At 25, we have come a long way, but still have far to go with ADA. ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and state and local government services. For more information on statistics on services provided in the United States for the 56.7 million Americans who have a disability, click here. However, we are not there yet. In New York City, only 21% of the subway stations are accessible for persons with mobility difficulties. Many other transit systems across the country are not fully accessible. Unemployment rates remain high among the disabled population. And did you know, disabled persons do not have to be paid the federal minimum wage? There is a Special Minimum Wage that can be invoked to pay someone whose disability impairs their productivity level. Yes, this is the law.
After 25 years, where are we as the church? Most church buildings I know of are still not fully accessible. Some have finally put in a ramp and widened doorways, but all too often it is the back or side door, not the front door. Pulpits and choir lofts remain inaccessible, and pews are often difficult for persons using any mobility assistance to sit in. Lack of funds is the most likely culprit. Historic building preservation committees have regulated accessibility to entries out of sight. Elevators are expensive. Even making bathrooms accessible doesn’t happen in every church.
Beyond mobility concerns for accessibility, how is your sound system? Do you have listening devices for the hearing impaired? Large print Bibles for the visually impaired? How are folks with other disabilities welcomed into the life, ministry, and leadership of the church? As the rate of diagnosis for autism and other disabilities increases, how are you welcoming children, youth, and adults with disabilities? Are they welcomed and given appropriate accommodations in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School?
25 years. One quarter of a century, and we still have far to go in terms of justice and inclusion for persons with disabilities. Did you or your church acknowledge the 25th anniversary of ADA? What will you do now?