Latest Update: March 2nd, 2023
- Wow! It has been three months now since I have updated this. The good news is that this is back at the old domain at armandovias.com. Updated content, and some surprising new features may surprise you in this guide!
- The contact information below the guide will be updated as soon as possible to keep its accuracy, since I have updated to a professional phone system (gotta have an auto-receptionist and all of the bells and whistles to look professional).
This guide goes over on how to make your church and your ministries accessible for all. This includes the website, church facility,a nd your ministries that you run.
Introduction To Accessibility At Your Church
Churches are a safe space! You can worship, pray, etc. One thing that is missing from most places of worship is equal access for people with disabilities, such as people with hearing, visual, physical, and other disabilities that have a significant impact on the person(s) ability to participate in church activities.
What Is Accessibility?
Accessibility is defined as the quality of being able to be reached or entered.
Why Does Equal Access Matter For Your Church?
Most places of worship own a website, in which people who are in their congregation(s) can visit to look up information on events, download the latest service bulletins, watch church services live online or stream missed services, staying up-to-date on upcoming events for the church, and so on. One thing, for sure, that some of the church leader(s) don’t think about, is the accessibility of their website(s). Most churches have a physical building, but some of them do not think about implementing accessibility. This could cause issues in the long run from disabled members, such as them leaving their old congregation to search for some place else to worship and be welcomed with open arms.
While I understand that most people who serve on a church/ministry team or committee, some leaders are not that tech savvy to even make their website accessible. I also understand that money is tight right now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic/inflation. This is where this guide comes in, to teach you the right ways/best practices of implementing equal access.
Today, I am going to teach you how to make your church(s)/ministry(s) website/building accessible. This guide is not meant to scare you. However, this will help you spread the good news about God, Jesus, etc to everyone that you can reach, such as people in the disabled communities. If you want to ensure that everyone with a disability feels loved when they step into your church, this guide is for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or anything like that. I am just giving you general information regarding the legality that you might have to follow if your place of worship is under a certain category. Please have a look at the References at the bottom of this guide.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
There is a law in the United States, called the Americans With Disabilities Act (also known as ADA). Churches, however, are exempt from this law. This law prohibits discriminating people with disabilities.
Improving Your Website(s)
Let’s start with your website.
Labeling Links (The Right Way)
All links should be labeled clearly, not some of them, or even worse, none of them. For example, a link should be labeled like this: “Click Here To Access The Bulletin.” Having a clear description of links helps screen-reader users understand what is behind a link, when pressed.
Example of The Correct Way To Label Links
Click Here To Access The Church Bulletin
Example of An Incorrect Way To Label Links
- Click Here
You do not want to label a button that the sighted community only wants to see, but screen-readers can’t. If your website builder gives you an option to label buttons, please give a clear label for the button, for example, “Click this button to download the bulletin.” Don’t use “Click here” or even worse, “Here.”
An Example of A Correct Way To Label Buttons
The Incorrect Way To Label Buttons
Don’t label buttons like this:
Or, even this!
The Proper Heading Structure
Headings should be properly structured correctly. Here is an example, found below.
Example of A Correct Heading Structure On A Page (HTML Code Included)
Welcome To Elevator Church! (Main Title of Page Or Blog Post)
- <h1>Welcome To Elevator Church!</h1>
What Is Elevator Church? (Describe What The Main Topic Is About)
- <h2>What Is Elevator Church?</h2>
What We Believe?
- <h3>What We Believe?</h3>
And so on. If this confuses you, just let me know by contacting me.
Be Sure To Use Descriptions In Images (Alt (Alternative) Text)
Make sure that images have good descriptions. This comes in a form of “alt text,” or alternative text, in which a screen-reader only sees. For example, if there is a picture of a Pastor sitting in a chair smiling, the alt text should say, “A Pastor is smiling, while she is sitting in a chair reading a Bible.”
Make Sure That Documents Are Rendered Correctly
This goes for your bulletins. I encourage you to offer different versions of your document(s), including PDF, Word Format (.DOCX), or even a HTML (standalone web) version. Refer to the growing resources at the bottom of this guide.
Media (audio And Videos) (Website Continued)
This section goes over the best practices for media, including audio and videos. This section will also continue the focus on your website(s) for your church.
Include Audio Descriptions/Subtitles
Make sure that you add audio description/subtitles to your videos that you may upload. This may include videos that you may upload to Facebook, YouTube, etc. Without audio description, people who are blind will not know what is going on. Without subtitles, people who are hard of hearing will not know what the person is speaking about, such as a Pastor who is giving a sermon.
Use Sign Language (also known as American Sign Language (ASL)
Be sure to incorporate sign language in your media, if possible.
Audio Controls For Media More Than Three Seconds Long
Be sure to include audio controls for audio/videos more than three seconds. This will ensure that people who watch the videos, who might’ve watched part of the video, can skip forward or backwards.
Flashes e.g., Animated Images
Avoid any flashing lights, or any animated images/videos that flash a lot, as people with motion issues can suffer from a medical emergency if they are exposed to a lot of flashing.
Don’t Use Colors To Relay Information
Be sure to avoid any colors that is used to relay information.
Don’t Use Hovering
Please, in any way, do not implement a hover or focus technique to access information. This could make it hard for screen-reader users, since most users rely on keyboard navigation.
Don’t Include Pages That Time Out
Be sure to not include pages that time out. If for some reason that you want to include those pages, be sure to have an option for people with disabilities to turn the feature off.
Have Someone With A Disability Test Your Website Before Publishing
This could save some time in the long run. If you publish the website right away, and you start getting complaints, then it might take a while to possibly rebuild the website to accommodate people with disabilities. Call or FaceTime your church member(s) so they can show you how they use their technology to access your church(s) website. Even better, you can enable disabled member(s) to use Zoom to share their screen with you.
Even Better, Hire Someone With Disabilities To Build Your Website!
If a person with a disability knows coding, then you should hire them to help you get your website up and running. They will be sure to guide you in the process of making your site accessible for all. They will be happy and felt appreciated for letting them make your website with you.
In this section, I will go over making your church newsletters accessible to people with disabilities.
Why Implement A Newsletter For Your Church?
Here are the reasons on why you should include a newsletter for your church:
- It provides the members who can’t make it to your church every Sunday morning to stay up-to-date on the lates events.
- Most members use email communication today.
- It is cheaper than printing, meaning that you are saving paper in the long-run!
- The newsletter(s) allow member(s) to take actions, such as donating to a fund for your church, signing up for events that the member(s) in question are interested in, etc.
While newsletters are a great way of communicating, doing it the wrong way, from a disability perspective, can present some challenges that will make it difficult for someone, for example, who is blind, visually-impaired, dyslexic, etc.
Steps To Making Your Newsletter(s) Accessible
Here are some recommendations on how to make your newsletters accessible:
- Provide a descriptive subject line. For example, don’t say, “Newsletter.” This, unfortunately, does not tell the member(s) what this newsletter is about. Here is some ways that the subject can be descriptive:
- (Church-Name) Weekly Newsletter (Insert Date Here)
- Upcoming Events And Announcements From (Church-Name)
- Use headings in your emails: This is very important, especially for screen-reader users. Use the same structure that you used for your website. If you don’t remember the structure, have a look at the headings sub-section in this guide.
- Pay deeply attention on how you use the text in your links. Don’t use the following:
- Click Here
- Make sure that you use alternative (alt) text for images: This will help screen-reader users know what the image is about. You will find resources on how to do this at the bottom of this guide.
- Pay deeply attention to how you use color contrast.
- Make sure that you are using the right font, and are using the right font size: This will help people who uses small screens, such as mobile phones.
- Offer an option to open your newsletter in a web browser: This could come in handy if the email client that the member(s) use doesn’t render the email correctly.
- Make accessibility a top priority: Check every newsletter that you are sending out for any accessibility issues. If a member of your church contacts you complaining about the lack of accessibility of your newsletter, don’t take this lightly. If the complaint is valid, for example, the member who is trying to access information on the newsletter gives you or your team steps to improve, listen to that feedback and implement it as soon as possible.
Physically Improving Your Place Of Worship
This part of the guide now explains how you can physically improve your place of worship to meet the demands of people with disabilities.
If possible, install handicapped buttons. This is for wheelchair users. Also, if you carry something heavy, you can open the door(s) easier.
Accessible Wheelchair Ramps
This is obvious. If you have stairs, your best bet is to implement wheelchair ramps outside of your church doors.
Be sure to include large-print bulletins for visually-impaired member(s) (members who have low-vision). Also, be sure to have a hard (brailled) copy of the bulletin as well, so blind people can follow along.
Same Thing Goes For Bibles
I encourage you to have large-print/brailled copies of the Bible in stock, just in case a blind person doesn’t have smartphone access. See one of the resources at the bottom of this guide.
If you have multiple floors in your church, be sure to include elevators. These elevators must be easy to operate. All buttons must be labeled with large-print/braille, etc.
Examples of accessible signage may include, but not limited to braille signs to bathrooms, office spaces, etc. Avoid using small print for signage. Use large print/braille instead.
Include People With Disabilities In The Decision Making Process
Everyone is different somehow, but God gave us a gift to advocate. If you have a Board Meeting or a Town Hall Meeting every month or quarterly, invite the people with disabilities to speak. If they give you feedback that needs improvement, be sure that it gets improved, or else the member(s) in question, might sadly leave. Your goal is to grow, not leave member(s) with different abilities behind.
This guide is a great start to making your church and your ministries accessible. If you have any questions, please let me know by filling out the feedback form at the bottom of this website or by directly emailing me. Be sure to share this article far and wide.
- Visual Listeners: The Importance of Sign Language In The Modern Church | The Point Magazine
- What Is A Screen-Reader? | Freedom Scientific
- Religious Entities Under The Americans With Disabilities Act | ADA National Network
- Creating Accessible Emails | Constant Contact
- Eight Reasons Your Church Should Have An Email Newsletter | Lifeway Research
- 5 Tips For Designing Accessible Newsletters
- Microsoft Word – Making Your Church Accessible and Removing Barriers-2021.docx
- How to Make Your Church Website ADA Compliant
- Creating Nonvisually Accessible Documents | National Federation Of the Blind
- Alternative Text | Webaim
- Hyperlinks | Webaim
- Blind | Special Touch Ministries