The 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act is being commemorated this year, as the ADA was signed into law on July 26th, 1990. This landmark legislation provides important protections for Americans with disabilities, and requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations for all people with differing abilities. See a compelling message here from the UUA President, Rev. Peter Morales that celebrates this exciting anniversary. The Standing on the Side of Love summer intern, Carter Smith, interviewed Sally Wetzler of the First UU Church of Richmond, VA to discuss this important milestone. EqUUal Access has curated new resources for the anniversary, check them out here.
Carter Smith: I spoke to Sally Wetzler of Richmond, Virginia about experiences with accessibility in her congregation. Many years ago she wanted to be a part of her congregation but they did not have a wheelchair-accessible bathroom. When she brought it up, they were quick to respond to it, even though it did take some time to actually accomplish. In addition she no longer has to help lead worship from the floor, but can participate in full on stage as they now have a ramp. She says that it has been an uphill struggle, because in her words: “We have had the ADA for 25 years but there are still buildings being built that are not accessible. You have to sue in order to get anything done.” Sally says that the ADA is great because of the guidelines it gives, but unfortunately, many local governments have not included the ADA in their building codes.
Sally and I talked about inclusion in churches, and she said “I would like to see people with disabilities automatically included in thinking and planning whether it’s for a new program or facility. Not an afterthought.” For example, people setting up chairs for events often need to be reminded to leave room for people with mobility devices, so those individuals do not have to find space in the back. Also when planning events, we need to remind people to make sure to include materials for people who may have vision or hearing issues. And those are but a few examples of how to become truly inclusive for everyone.
The Unitarian Universalist Association has many resources on how to be a more welcoming congregation to people with disabilities. There is also information on specific needs, such as for people with chemical sensitivities, mobility impairments, psychiatric disabilities, hearing impairments, visual impairments, and invisible disabilities. By being intentionally inclusive of people with disabilities, we can widen the circle and bring more voices to the table in our movement. This is important as we continue to live into the theme of General Assembly this year, of Building a New Way as we try to truly live into our principles within our congregations.
Sally, along with our partners at EqUUal Access, invite you to join us in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ADA and to be an advocate for accessibility in your communities. There are many new resources from EqUUal Access through the new Accessibility & Inclusion Ministry Program. Head over to EqUUAL Access to learn more about what you can do, and consider picking up a copy of Enabling Acts from Beacon Press, a compelling account from renowned disability scholar Lennard J. Davis that tells the behind-the-scenes story of the ADA.
The Standing on the Side of Love Team