Norwegian Church set to work on inclusivity for disabled
The Church of Norway acknowledges: Congregations find it challenging to be accessible for people with a disability. Time to change things, Mette Lilleeng argues. She is the President of the Kristent Arbeid Blant Blinde og svaksynte (KABB), a Christian organisation for people with seeing problems.
The church needs a so-called universal design that ensures that all people –with or without a disability– have the same access to the church, Lilleeng says to the Norwegian press agency KPK. “We do not ask for a special position for the blind, but only request equal treatment.”
At the moment, disabled people often struggle with the accessibility to meetings of the Church of Norway, more than healthy people do. “Wheelchair users have to use the backdoor of the church. Blind people do not receive assistance when they arrive at the church”, Lilleeng points out.
Churches do not always notice that their accessibility is insufficient for the disabled, she says. “Some of them point at their system for people with hearing aids. Of course, that is a good thing, but many congregations do not progress further than that.” She acknowledges that people can ask for help if they run against an obstacle because of their disability. At the same time, she emphasises that the problem goes beyond that. “The core of the problem is that not all people feel welcome in church. That should change.”
The accessibility of the church is no worse than that of public buildings in Norway, according to Lilleeng. Yet, they ought to do better. “When a church says that she is there for everyone, we must be able to believe her word.”
Jan Christian Kielland, President of the Department for Ecclesiastical Studies of the Church of Norway, agrees with the need for good accessibility of churches. “Our goal should always be that everyone feels part of the Church and has equal access to events.”
That is why the next meeting of the Church Council will deal with the issue of church accessibility, Kielland says. “The Council will work on a universal design that makes churches accessible for everyone. It can be used as a guideline for the whole Church of Norway. The Council will pay attention, under more, to physical and non-physical barriers that people encounter.”
At the same time, he warns that the diversity in disabilities can make it difficult for the church to be accessible to everyone. “That needs time.”
Sometimes, only a slight adjustment is enough to make a church more accessible, Lilleeng says. The congregations of the Church of Norway have, for example, access to a hymn book in braille. The problem, however, is that these books are so large that “you need a wheelbarrow to take them all to church”, the President of KABB laughs. The solution is simple, she says. “Congregations know in advance which hymns they will sing in the church service. If they publish them on their website in advance, blind people can prepare for the service.”
In addition, KABB organises trainings for church workers. The organisation hopes that these people, by gaining more knowledge, will work for improved accessibility of the Church of Norway.
Inclusivity is essential without doubt, Kielland says. “Accessibility is also about the fact that the body of Christ consists of many members with different gifts and tasks. They are all needed to complete the body of Christ.”
European Evangelical Alliance would welcome more young people of colour
Mother’s column: My cousin is very gifted, but just different
Fashion label "H&M" advertises with young model with Down's syndrome