Often people think that access issues are about how people who use wheelchairs can get into, out of and around buildings. But the vast majority of people with mobility issues do not use wheelchairs.
Causes of mobility problems may be because of arthritic conditions e.g. of the hip; muscle weakness e.g. after a stroke or with Multiple Sclerosis; and loss of sensation e.g. with diabetes. Dizziness may also cause people to be tentative in walking - this can be caused by illness and sometimes medication. Poor sight also affects people's ability to walk. Then some illnesses such as heart disease and chronic anaemia may mean that people cannot walk too far without getting breathless.
Depending on the reason for the mobility problem the solution may well be different. For example someone who uses a wheelchair will not necessarily need to park close to the venue but will need parking that is on the flat with space to get a wheeelchair out of the car. People with heart disease are likely to need to park close so that they do not have to walk too far.
Many of our places of worship are very old, often listed, which limits what can be done to make places accessible. However there are some excellent examples of what can be done such as Brook Street Chapel in Knutsford. However solutions are often quite costly.
Accessibility is not just about getting into the building, it's also about getting round the building - through doors and to different floors - or it should lead us to ask if we can have all our activities on the most accessible floor? We are currently writing a Listed Building Permission document asking to remove our pews (not original) of our 1717 building. We have a monthly, shared lunch and other events in the social room which is up two flights of stairs. Removing the pews would enable our worship space to also be used as a social space.
You need to consider the toilet provision and safety aspects of the internal areas. Although safety issues may not strictly fall into the topic of this blog it is worth noting that people may be more encouraged to come to a venue if they think that their health and safety needs are being considered. Carpets are thought to be the safest floor covering as long as they are fitted, not frayed and have sufficient underlay. This may not be the case for stairs but this is another debate. Information can be found on the Internet about reducing falls at the RoSPA website, on their page Accidents to Older People.
Other issues are about making sure that walkways are clear and uncluttered with wires and cables kept safely away from where people walk. Good lighting is also key to helping people move around safely.
English Heritage produced a guide in December 2012 called Easy Access to Heritage Buildings - they say this
These guidelines focus on physical access issues because these often pose the greatest challenges as well as opportunities for historic buildings.
Other issues such as lighting, tone, colour contrast and signing are touched upon, while acknowledging the excellent guidance on these aspects of good access design which exists elsewhere.
I think that if you want to know more about access then this document is a good place to start.
The American Unitarian Universalist Association also provide useful information - this is their access guide.
As you can see this is a vast topic. To make sure that you get it right for the people who come to your place of worship take some time to talk with them. This may be older people but it may not. Another group of people who often get overlooked are those with children in prams and buggies.
And then as a community commit to making changes to create an inclusive community.