This is a great example of what I was talking about in the last post. A Catholic school that offers a classical education, but also integrates students with intellectual disabilities into the classroom.
There are essentially two broad categories of accessibility/inclusion. (And I do mean broad.)
1. Physical accessibility/ inclusion
2. Intellectual/emotional inclusion
Let’s break these down a bit.
The first one is sort of a no-brainer, right? Or at least you would think. But it’s not. Having a “handicapped-accessible bathroom” doesn’t just mean having an extra-big stall, or doors that a wheelchair can get through. Can the person in the wheelchair open the door to the church by herself? Is there room in the stall? Etc.
For blind people, it’s having Braille missals, or, for those with low vision, large-print. It’s having individual hearing devices and/or telecoils (telecoils are better) for the Deaf and hard of hearing. It’s having wide aisles and pew cuts so that people in wheelchairs or that use walkers or crutches can sit without causing a ruckus. All those things are physical accommodations.
The second one is intellectual/emotional–and by that, I mean, people with learning disability, but also disabilities like autism, which doesn’t mean that the person can’t learn, but has impairments in interacting with people.
(Autism folk who read this–tell me how you like to be addressed, because I honestly don’t know. Trying to be as sensitive as possible here!)
Now, this is harder, because a lot of the time, it might not be apparent that there is a need. But I would say that the main thing would be to include people as much as possible. At a local parish, there is an altar boy with Down’s Syndrome, and he does a great job serving. That’s inclusion. It’s allowing kids on the autism spectrum into CCD with the necessary accommodations. I taught first grade CCD at my parish for three years, and in that time, my classroom had several kids with autism spectrum diagnoses, and one blind pupil. These kids were integrated into my classroom as much as possible. Sometimes it meant working closely with the parents, so they knew what we’d be teaching, and they needed an extra textbook in order to prepare materials ahead of time. Sometimes it was allowing a child a stool to put his feet on, so he wouldn’t fidget as much, or allowing someone to color when the others weren’t. Sometimes it meant allowing more restroom breaks. Nothing, however, was insurmountable.
These children need education just like the “average” kid does. And parishes must make it so! It takes time, I know. It takes funds. But please, make it happen. My parish runs a program called Blessed Margaret’s Children, after a Dominican blessed who was blind and deaf. Her parents abandoned her when she was just a child, but she became a Dominican tertiary (third order member) and lived a life of great sanctity, working to help others. In this work, children with special needs are taken into the CCD program, and either “mainstreamed” (placed in classrooms of their peers) or taught one on one with a special teacher. The goal is to teach the child in the best way for the child, with everyone working together.
Children and adults with disabilities are vital parts of our parishes. Please remember that! Bring them in! Think about how to provide these services, and don’t just turn people away! If a child with autism wants to be an altar boy, or join the Girl Scouts, or whatever, then see if you can do it. Work with the family and the child. Provide options. Sometimes, yeah, it just won’t work. Sometimes it’s not possible. But don’t just dismiss it out of hand. For adults, if a blind person wants to be a lector, could you make it happen? Probably.
This–the avoidance of any sort of thinking about disability– is all too common in Catholic schools. Our schools are geared, more and more, at all levels, toward the exceptional student, the above-average student, and the healthy student. Many Catholic schools fail to address the needs of both the physical disabled and the intellectually/emotionally disabled. If Christ is the reason for our schools (as my parochial elementary school’s mission statement said), then we need to remember that He welcomed everyone.
We need to do the same in our parishes, schools, and organizations.
I’m a very independent person by nature. I have a hard time asking for help, even from my own family. But there have been many times in my life where I’ve needed help–when I’ve done home IVs, you need someone to help you bathe, because you have to keep the IV site clean and dry, and you can’t do that while you’re doing everything yourself (IVs are usually put in arms, especially upper arms. Imagine trying to keep your upper arm TOTALLY dry while you wash your hair. Yeah. Now, there’s a lot of different kinds of wraps and such but that didn’t really exist back in the ’90s).
I’ve needed people to drive me places–I couldn’t drive for the first three months post-transplant because of the med interactions. I’ve needed people to hear for me. So, yeah, I sort of hate being dependent on people.
But the thing is–I’m mobile. I can move. And lately, I’ve realized how hard our world is for people who need help moving.
Almost no stores are really handicapped accessible. They never have switch plates so a person in a wheelchair could open the door by herself. She would need someone else to open it for her. In fact, the “handicapped accessible” doors are based on the idea that a person in a wheelchair always has a “helper” with them.
How ridiculous is that? How insulting! And how difficult it makes their lives!
I thought about this as I went around town yesterday. If I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t go into a single store without asking for help. Now, I imagine, if you’re in a wheelchair, you have developed ways to open doors and such with panache, because you adapt–I know that much from my CI experiences. But holy cow, could we make it any harder? We have curb cuts and ramped sidewalks, but the doors require great finesse to open! What’s the point of the curb cuts and ramped sidewalks? So a person can push a person in a wheelchair and then open the door for them? That’s the conclusion I’m coming to. It’s not to give people who are handicapped actual independence. Because, you know, that costs money.
When you have a chronic illness, or disability, you give over so much of your independence. You’re taken where you don’t want to go a lot of times. You do things you really don’t want to do a lot of times. And your life is hard enough.
Churches need to be a refuge. They need to be the place that’s easy to enter, that gives you some dignity, and independence.
That’s why this is important. Churches, of all places, need to be welcoming and easy to access. We can make that happen.
(I’m really not trying to be all woe is me, here. But man, sometimes you just want easy. You want simple. You don’t want everything to be a huge production. It’s just true.)
The best way to find out what a congregation needs? Ask them–in a completely private environment. As in, a survey!
My parish didn’t have face-to-face confession opportunities, or listening devices, or a telecoil, until our new pastor came in and asked for people’s opinions and input, about everything in the parish. He wanted us to just tell him what we liked and didn’t like about the parish as a whole. Amazing! He gave us an email address, and he read all the responses. In the bulletin, he told us what the results were saying, both good and bad–and one of the big items, apparently, was the church sound system.
That led to change. First, there was a survey about sound, left in the galley. I picked one up before Mass, took it into Mass with me, and graded everyone appropriately. There was a line for your hearing: if it’s normal, or if you use a CI or a hearing aid. You could note where you sat. You noted not just volume, but comprehension, which is so important, because I hear a lot of things–I just don’t understand them, or comprehend what they are. (Take your A/C unit at home, if you have one. It probably has a distinct sound. Now, when I got to my parents, I have to ask what this strange sound is–it’s their A/C unit, but it’s different than mine. Appliances are a great example. Every single one sounds different!)
So what this led to was the telecoil project, making the sound system better, getting mics in the choir loft (thank you baby Jesus!), and individual listening devices.
So if you can, email your pastor. Or better yet, pastors, ask your parishioners for their input! This is a really, really easy thing to do. Ask them if they feel the church is accessible for them. Ask them what they need! This is a free way to figure out how your church is doing in meeting the needs of its parishioners.
(Will everyone fill out the survey? No. But I bet people with something to say will–I filled out a “sound survey” every week that it was there!)
I’m a big fan of the Magnificat missal, not just because it’s beautifully produced with sacred art, essays, and meditations, but because it has the Mass prayers and readings for every single day in it.
When you’re hard of hearing, you appreciate any help you can get. Every Catholic pew missal I’ve seen has the readings for every Sunday written out, and the Scripture verses for the introit (the entrance procession) and the Eucharist–which I’ve always wondered about, because the average Catholic doesn’t need those. If you’re a music minister, then, yes, you’re supposed to choose hymnody that reflects those Scripture verses, or even better, cites those verses…But anyway, this is beyond our scope here.
The point is that if you are hard of hearing then it’s hard to know exactly what the priest is saying at all the different prayer points during the Sunday Mass, because it’s not in the missal.
These pew missals also don’t have the daily Mass Scriptures laid out–they just have the verse cites, which, I guess, is helpful if you take a Bible to Mass regularly, which I don’t, and which most Catholics don’t.
So Magnificat has the daily and Sunday Mass readings, the prayers, the Order of the Mass, the Eucharistic prayers, and a bunch of other great content. You can check it out here. Here are some screen shots:
So each day has a version of morning prayer and evening prayer in addition to the Mass readings and prayers for the day. It’s such a useful resource!
They also have a large print edition! No Braille that I’m aware of, but large print! Yay! (And a kids’ edition!)
Now, yes, it’s pricey. It’s about $44 a year, more than your average magazine subscription. But it is beautifully produced, and you get a special issue for Holy Week, so you’re getting 13 issues with this. It’s also orthodox and theologically sound, so you don’t have to worry about that.
I’m not connected with them in any way, so this is purely my own opinion, but it makes going to daily Mass possible for me. I would never go if I couldn’t follow in my Magnificat. It’s just too frustrating to go beyond Sundays in churches that don’t have telecoils.
And it’s not just in English! It’s in French, Spanish, Polish, German, two other languages, and also a UK/Irish edition (they use a different Bible, I think, than we do in the States? Something about the readings is different.)
Think about it. How often, if you have a question, is your first instinct to Google it? You probably don’t even think about it, really. You just do it. Or you ask Siri or Alexis or whoever.
Webpages are like phone book entries, except with a ton of information that you never got in the phone book. And some parishes/dioceses have crappy websites, because, yeah, it does take some effort to craft a good website. It requires care and maintenance to keep it current.
But if we’re going to say that the Catholic life is communal, and that Mass attendance and sacramental life is vital to salvation, then we need to make it stupidly easy to get the information to attend Mass. We need to make it stupidly easy to attend Mass. Webpages are a symptom of a much larger problem, which we’ll discuss here, I hope. (Send your stories in!)
Having no information on signed Masses, or disability access, on your website, is basically slamming the door in people’s faces. It says, we do not think you are important enough to merit mention. It says, we are not willing to accommodate you.
Now, you might argue there–oh, don’t be so hard on the poor church web designers!
It’s not them. It’s the people in charge. The parish councils, the pastors, the IT committee, the whatever, need to ensure that information is included.
“Well, we don’t have handicapped parishioners.”
You don’t? Are you sure about that? Because I’m willing to bet you do. I’m willing to bet you have people in the congregation who are autistic, who are hard of hearing, who are blind or have low-vision. I’m betting you have people in wheelchairs or walkers.
“Well, we don’t have any services to offer people with disabilities, so we don’t need to put on the website.”
That statement should make you think. Hard. And re-assess.
Your website is your parish welcome mat. Make it welcoming to everyone!
Because the website for the Diocese of Steubenville has nothing on their website about disability stuff, at all.
There is no office. There is no webpage. There is nothing, other than a brief line about how deacons visit people who have disabilities and that there’s something about catechetical resources on a search page. But when you click link to said page–nothing.
So, congratulations, Steubenville. You win the prize for worst webpage!
But they do have pages on Latino ministry, and human trafficking. So this isn’t an instance where they are unaware of how to make subpages off the main site. This is an instance of, oh, well…..shrug.
We’ve looked at the accessibility options for the dioceses of Cleveland and Columbus, so I figured I might as well finish the dioceses left in the Ohio: Cincinnati, Toledo, and Steubenville. We’ll look at Steubenville tomorrow.
Next up: Cincinnati.
Now, Cincinnati is the worst–thus far. First off, the search function isn’t prominently displayed, so you get to play “click on random links and see what you find.” Eventually, I found “resources for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired” after I found the search function and put in “deaf”.
Here’s what’s on that page: (successive screen shots)
These are “resources”? Not for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. They’re resources for people who work with them.