Australian research finds many churches make physical provisions, few offer programs for people with disabilities

By Carolina Luciano Burgos |
Wheelchair sign on parking lot
Unsplash/AbsolutVision

In April 2024 NCLS Research in Australia released the findings from their 2021 National Church Life Survey (NCLS) related to how well churches prepare to receive disabled individuals. “Whether in facilities or in an active culture of inclusion,” the NCLS looked at how welcomed disabled individuals feel and how well they are provided for. 

According to the study, a vast majority of churches said they offer provisions for people with disabilities. Ninety percent of the churches surveyed mentioned they provided disabled individuals with at least one out of four types of assistance listed in the questionnaire. The top provisions, as reported by seventy-six percent of churches, were physical such as ramps, accessible toilets, and parking.

Forty-seven percent included more specific provisions like “hearing loops, wheelchair spaces convenient for services and large print written materials.” Only three percent of churches reported having “program-related provisions” such as “adapted Bible studies for individuals with intellectual impairments, social support or educational content for their congregations.” Two out of ten churches indicated providing an active culture of inclusion.

The survey also analyzed how well churchgoers think their churches generally do in their activities for people with disabilities and inclusiveness. Of the people surveyed, 39% rated their church as adequate while a 26% scored it as excellent.

Church attendants who had a disability themselves (59%) were more likely to say they weren’t sure if their churches provided inclusive and effective provisions for people with disabilities. One in seven church attendants surveyed (13%) said they had some kind of disability and 23% reported having a close family with a disability. Additionally, 28% of respondents said they experience some kind of health problem that occasionally keeps them from involving themselves in church life.

Survey participants who thought their churches were well-equipped to assist people with disabilities decreased from 72% in 2016 to 65% in 2021.

More details within the study revealed that provisions for people with disabilities increased with church size. The bigger the church, the more accommodations they could make to help this community in spiritual development and facilitate church involvement.

In a different study done in 2021, NCLS Research asked survey participants about their interactions and connections with disabled individuals. People in positions of leadership were most likely to have some kind of connection with people with disabilities outside of their family circles.

More than half of the people surveyed (55%) mentioned having “an experience of, or connection with disability.” According to NCLS Research, this demonstrates that “a broad awareness of disability exists within congregations.”