One element of exercising due diligence is ensuring the environment in which we provide our ministry is safe and welcoming. The means by which we achieve this is determined not only by internal factors but also by external pressures such as legislation. The challenge is in being aware of and meeting the requirements of the external pressures.
"Environment" includes not only the physical space but also the people who deliver the services. Health and safety policies and screening practices are only two ways of developing a safe environment. The atmosphere created by individuals as they interact with one another is another element of the environment. The following section looks at various aspects of creating the safe environment—the "caring community."
Looking to develop or enhance your own program for due diligence and screening? Need resources to assist in the process? In addition to the United Church resources below, check out what Plan to Protect® has to offer your ministry.
Accessibility and the Church
As welcoming communities of faith, we should strive to eliminate all barriers that may limit the full participation of individuals. These barriers may be visible or invisible and are not restricted to the physical environment.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind offers a broad spectrum of online resources to assist in accommodating individuals with vision impairment.
Recent provincial legislation across the country has resulted in identifying some of the less obvious barriers. However, it also has implications for our ministries in insuring they are meeting the requirements as they come into effect.
A summary of current and upcoming provincial legislation:
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act: passed into law April 2005
- The Accessibility for Manitobans Act: passed into law November 2015; customer service standards to be met by November 1, 2018
- Nova Scotia plans to introduce legislation in 2016
- Accessibility 2024: making B.C. the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024—released June 2014
The objective in each case is to remove barriers that currently prevent full access to services many of us take for granted.
For the church, action will be required. Based on the experience in Ontario, the following steps will be required:
- Establish policies, practices, and procedures.
- Establish a training program, and train staff and volunteers.
- Establish a feedback process.
Accessibility Standards (Ontario)
Check out AccessForward for resources and tools to help you meet the compliance requirements.
For resources on customer service standards (Ontario), see the Hamilton and Toronto Conference resources under Downloads, below—Accessibility and the Church; Welcoming Communities (2 versions). Conferences in Ontario are welcome to adapt these. Conferences outside Ontario may find them useful as we strive to be a welcoming church to everyone.
Accessibility and the Built Environment (Ontario)
Much concern has been expressed over what impact the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) will have on church structures. The concern has been around financial costs, availability of physical space, practical considerations, and the opportunity to live out a commitment to being a welcoming community of faith.
As of January 1, 2015, the 2012 Building Code came into effect, and it includes new requirements for accessibility. These amendments apply to new builds or major renovations as defined under the building code (related to size of the area being affected). The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing website describes the requirements in detail under Building Regulation. Before proceeding with any work, the congregation or ministry should consult with the local municipal offices for detailed information about the building code as it applies to their specific property and project.
Customer Service Standards (Ontario)
For resources on customer service standards (Ontario), see the Hamilton and Toronto Conference resources listed below.
Conferences in Ontario are welcome to adapt these. Conferences outside Ontario may find these useful as we strive to be a welcoming church to everyone.
Check out AccessON for stories, videos, and tips on how to provide services to individuals with disabilities. A number of tools are available to help you meet the compliance requirements, including online training.
Social networking is more than a communications tool. It is a way for people, particularly young people, to hang out together, an extension of their social lives and places of self-expression. It is an alternative form of community. As such, it poses some of the same risks that a physical community may present.
Those in leadership roles who use social media tools as a means of enhancing communication, sharing faith, and deepening relationships need to be cognizant of the power of this medium and the accompanying risks. It is important to continue to employ the rules regarding relationships, boundaries, and ministry practices to ensure a safe environment is created for all. The guidelines below are provided to assist church leaders when they use this growing community.
For more information contact