Even though religious entities are exempt from ADA rules, you want your church to be inclusive to all individuals. Making your church accessible to seniors may be a costly investment upfront, but it will be well worth it to the elderly members of your congregation. We put together some tips to help you improve accessibility for seniors at your church.
Make Your Entrance Accessible for Seniors
Your entranceway plays an important role in giving visitors their first impression of your church and making them feel welcome. If you’re creating a senior-friendly entry, consider those who use canes, walkers, or wheelchairs.
You may need to add:
- A curb ramp
- A ramp that leads to the entrance
- Clear, even walkways
- A wider entryway
- Lightweight doors that close slowly and are easy to open
- Signage that directs people to your accessible entrance
- Greeters who are able to lend a hand
Transportation for Seniors
Older adults who have difficulty driving may start to feel isolated at home. If there isn’t public transportation, and you can’t set up a transportation service for seniors — try to encourage carpools and offer a valet to park cars. There’s only a finite amount of space that’s close enough to your entrance to become an ADA accessible parking space.
Add Flexible Seating
Wooden pews can be uncomfortable for seniors, especially during longer services. Consider adding arm chairs for your elderly members. A higher seat with arms is easier for a senior to get in and out of.
You may have to remove a few pews or pew sections, but this will make room for wheelchairs and any other furniture options you want to slide in and out. This way, seniors are still able to participate and sit alongside the rest of the congregation without having to block an aisle.
Keep All of the Senses in Mind
As people age, they may struggle with different senses, whether that’s hearing, smell, or sight. It’s very common to start experiencing vision changes. So, you may want to offer large print hymnals or church bulletins. Another option is to use video to display hymn sheet music. It also helps to verbally describe any visual elements that are presented.
To help the hearing impaired, you might need a sign language interpreter or a transcriptionist that can provide live captioning. The addition of printed scripts, a sound system, or an assistive listening system can be helpful.
Additionally, make sure the hearing impaired can detect your fire alarm. You may need a system with a strobe light.
Other Safety Enhancements
Making your church safer for seniors will also benefit the rest of your congregation. These types of improvements can be used by anyone, no matter what their age is:
- Clearly labeled doors
- Handrails in the bathroom
- Wider walkways
- High-contrast colors at sharp corners, edges, and ledges
Bring Church to the Elderly
Think beyond physical accessibility and find ways to reach seniors who aren’t physically able to attend church. You can visit them or set up live video streaming of your services. Ask church volunteers to help set up equipment if needed.
Church Events and Activities
Make sure that your church events are accessible for seniors. Improving your church hall’s accessibility is a terrific option. If it isn’t in the budget right now, you could also plan the event in a building that was constructed after the ADA rules were implemented in the early 1990s. Most likely, there will be fewer barriers you’ll have to remove.
When you’re planning an event, you want it to bring people together in a fun, safe manner. It can help to have someone with medical experience on hand in case of an emergency.
We hope these suggestions help make your church and worship activities accessible to seniors and all of your visitors. Before moving forward with any changes, you might want to ask seniors for their input. Find out where they could use some extra assistance.
Dr. Tom McElheny has served as an Elder and director of Christian education for three Sarasota, Florida churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education, and is CEO of his company ChurchPlaza.