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Worship places must be accessible to all

Saturday May 18 2019

disabilities

Christians attend mass at Cathedral Church of Christ the King in Nakuru last year. The disabled must be fully and effectively involved in religious infrastructure. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ELIZABETH OMBATI
By ELIZABETH OMBATI
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Kenya does not have a state religion, but the supremacy of God is acknowledged in the Constitution.

Christians marked the Easter season last month while Muslims are currently observing the holy month of Ramadhan.

Every Friday through Sunday, many individuals gather in places of worship to pray.

Religious infrastructure is open to all. No one is locked out. This denotes an equal standing for everyone.

That we would all access God’s message how we want it, where we want it, and when we want it, without restriction of any kind. But is this the case?

A lot of time, discrimination comes in when we proclaim that we are treating everyone equally without considering specificities and individual requirements, especially when it comes to the disabled.

ACCESSIBILITY

Is the church, and by extension God’s message, reaching all, including the disabled?

It is difficult to preach the gospel of inclusion in our societies, if the one place that makes meaning to most individuals in society, whether knowingly or unknowingly, excludes other members of that very society.

For many mainstream churches, the inside of the church is marked with pews, long bench seats for the congregating members.

It is also not uncommon for many of these buildings to have only steps leading up to the entrance of the church house.

Let us interrogate what this means. For a wheelchair user and many others with physical impairments, accessing the church building may not be possible without a ramp.

Secondly, if the inside only has space for pews, the individual using a wheelchair does not have much choice, as others, of where to sit.

CONSULT

What of the individual with a hearing impairment who would require sign language interpretation, or the one with a visual impairment, who cannot read the booklets or hymns and Bible verses projected on the big screens?

How about the individual with an intellectual or a psychosocial disability, how at ease do they feel inside the church without unnecessary stares?

The church must learn to embrace persons with disabilities and see disability as part of human diversity.

Until we start probing existing barriers to participation, we will not consider that we are leaving out of our church houses, thousands or even millions of followers.

Let it be intentional to consult with the disabled on ensuring that their requirements for participation in places of worship are met.

STIGMA

Religion should also not be another front that perpetuates stigma.

Colleagues with disabilities have gone to church, to pray, and rather they have been called to the altar to be prayed for to cast demons away.

The message they hear is how Jesus cured lepers and cripples; how their prayers are not strong enough and so on — using a language that is not only discriminatory but also stigmatising.

To fully and effectively involve the disabled in our religious infrastructure, we must work towards eliminating all barriers that hinder their participation on an equal basis with others.

The writer is a disability rights advocate; [email protected]

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