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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in Faith Communities

And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Thirty-two years ago on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is a comprehensive federal civil-rights statute protecting the rights of people with disabilities, entitling over 56 million Americans with disabilities to equal opportunities as full citizens of the United States. The ADA is landmark legislation for many people who, prior to its passage years ago, couldn’t even cross the street using a wheelchair, use the restroom in public buildings or ride public transportation.

Religious institutions are generally exempt from the ADA. They are covered by Title I employment regulations in the case of organizations with 15 or more employees.

According to the Collaborative on Faith and Disabilities (faithanddisability.org), 84% of people with disabilities say their faith is important to them, but only 45% of people with severe disabilities attend a place of worship at least monthly. Only ten percent of faith communities do congregation-wide disability awareness. Thirty-two percent of parents changed their place of worship because their child was not included or welcomed.

The ADA can serve as a moral mandate for faith communities to draw upon. The regulations offer specific guidance on how to improve access to buildings and grounds as well as how to make programs and employment accessible to people with disabilities. It does not stand alone as a moral mandate. Biblical texts can provide another kind of guidance, one that opens hearts as well as minds, causing us to question attitudes and beliefs about how people with disabilities are regarded, treated, and valued.

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