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How to Create Seating Space for People Who Use Wheelchairs

How to Create Seating Space for People Who Use Wheelchairs

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Often people who use wheelchairs are seated in the aisles or in the back of the sanctuary. Imagine how uncomfortable and possibly unsafe that could be! When creating space so someone who uses a wheelchair can sit in the congregation, consider this:

Remove seating: If you have bench seats, shorten them on the aisle side so someone using a wheelchair can sit next to friends or family. These are called pew cuts. Incorporate several pew cuts throughout the sanctuary so that people who use wheelchairs and those seated with them aren't in a "wheelchair section."

Be sure that there is good lighting in the areas where you are making the pew cuts. Good lighting throughout the sanctuary will also benefit others.

Consider traffic flow to the restrooms, social hall, and other areas in your synagogue. Eliminate any barriers or items that may block or make it difficult for someone using a wheelchair to pass.

Some congregations reserve seats next to the pew cuts for family members and friends, especially during peak times.

One synagogue had a sign that read, "reserved for wheelchairs." It was unclear if those spots were parking spaces for the chairs themselves rather than for the people who use them. Language is important! Signs should reflect person first language, i.e., “reserved seating for people (congregants) who use wheelchairs."

Congregations can get additional information about creating spaces for people who use wheelchairs by consulting with their state Americans with Disabilities or provincial Disability offices to learn about building accommodations. Many congregations find it helpful to consult an architect within the local community who has experience renovating or building houses of worship.

Reach out to other congregations in your community to learn how they have successfully improved access.

Sometimes a synagogue is on a national or local register of historic places and there is concern about making changes. Those congregations should follow up with the designating agency or organization to present their concerns and to find an acceptable way of creating spaces for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

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