Many churches out of reach for disabled

  More than half of London is off limits to disabled people, a new report revealed yesterday. The study, by disability charity Scope, showed that many offices, churches and other public buildings are totally inaccessible for people in wheelchairs. The Disability Discrimination Act has done little to improve the lives of people with disabilities, it states. More than 500 companies took part in the survey. Three out of four posed serious problems. Steps were the most common barrier, followed by the absence of lifts, inaccessible toilets and absent or unhelpful staff. Only 30 per cent of London buildings have disabled parking facilities, compared to 48 per cent nationwide. Only 38 per cent had ramps, compared to 45 per cent in the rest of the country. Forty-two per cent of West End theatres and 33 per cent of cinemas did not have wheelchair access. Commending the report, Rosemary McCloskey, from St Joseph's Pastoral Centre in Hendon said: "The figures bear out what we have been saying for a long time. The situation is probably about the same in our churches, social centres and other facilities. "Things are done without consulting people with disabilities. For example, a new ramp is installed, but this leaves a person stranded in the church still unable to take part fully in the service because they cannot get up the steps onto the sanctuary. "Recently this happened to someone I know who was a reader at Mass. He has a condition that deteriorated. He became wheelchair-bound and was crossed off the readers' list. At another church social centre they put in a disabled toilet - but the door could not be closed with a wheelchair inside." There are however some wonderful examples of good practice in Westminster Diocese, Rosemary said. "The church of St Mary and St Andrew in Dollis Hill, north London, has 29 steps, but they have installed a lift and built a beautiful processional ramp there at just the right gradient. These make access much easier for everyone: mothers with children, the elderly, funerals, and people in wheelchairs. "St John the Evangelist in Duncan Terrace, Islington, is also beginning work to make the sanctuary easier to reach". She continued: "Having a disability should not prevent someone from carrying out a ministry in the church. "I hope this report raises awareness and encourages everyone to consult disabled people when they improve their services." St Joseph's Pastoral Centre is an agency of Westminster Diocese offering a number of services for the support of people with learning difficulties. Often their clients have mobility problems. For more information about St Joseph's Pastoral Centre, call them on: 0208 202 3999 or 0208 202 5448.

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