First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester, Minn. has received national recognition for achievements in welcoming, embracing, and integrating people with disabilities and their families into their congregation, and for disability-related social justice activities in the Rochester community. First UU attained certification through the Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry (AIM) Program, which enables Unitarian Universalist congregations to be formally recognized for their commitment and progress.
Few religious communities in the United States offer programs specifically designed to promote greater welcoming and inclusion of people with disabilities and their families. First UU has participated in pioneering efforts as a pilot congregation of the AIM Program to develop this unique program. It is only the fourth congregation in the country to receive the distinction of having attained AIM certification.
In September 2015 we commissioned an accessibility survey from the Southeast Minnesota Center for Independent Living in order to ensure accessibility for our members and visitors. SEMCIL examined the entryway, sanctuary, education rooms, staff offices, kitchen, and fellowship hall and prepared an Accessibility Assessment that made several recommendations to improve accessibility. Since that time several no-cost and low-cost changes have been made and the church continues to study the feasibility and cost of larger projects. SEMCIL Audit
Accomplishments during the AIM Program include:
- Conducted congregation-wide survey on accessibility to find out what are the needs of our members/friends of our Congregation to make our Church more inclusive and accessible.
- Conducted a SEMCIL Accessibility Report
- January 31, 2015 Multi-generational workshop, Language Matters.” The Disability Task Force organized the workshop during an all-church midwinter retreat. Speakers from the Southeastern Minnesota ARC facilitated the workshop, which was developed in response to a local event.
- Feb 23, 2015 RE workshop “Nick Meets the Man in a Wheel Chair: Rich Noll, (the Man in the Wheel chair) wrote a children’s book, about Nick, a young boy and his encounter with “Sam”. Rich Noll is a father, author and a person who uses a wheelchair.
- February 17, 2015 The UU Book Club spontaneously chose to discuss Good Kings/Bad Kings, a book about people with disabilities who live in a juvenile “nursing” facility. Disability Task Group asked to participate.
- April 2015 “Introduction to Disability Work in the Congregation.” The workshop was presented to our board with the results of the survey.
- July 23, 2015 RE Workshop Disability Task Force member Shelly Maciujec (now Shelly McFadyen Rohe), who uses a wheelchair, spoke to 52 children during Chalice Camp following a lesson based on the story of Christopher Reeves. She discussed what the church had been doing to welcome people with disabilities and to make the building more friendly and accessible.
- January 31, 2016 “Breakfast of Champions.” A shared plate collection was given to Ironwood Springs Christian Camp. A film about the camp, which was shown at the Reelability Film Festival, was shown the same evening as the worship service. The director of the camp was present for the service and film.
- March 15 2016 The UU Book discussed two young adult books during their March meeting: Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonyes and Wonder by RJ Palacio about a child with a facial deformity (3/16).
Provided workshops at Chalice Camp and in RE for children around disability topics
- March 26, 2017 “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism” A disability-related worship service with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as the central theme. Members of the congregation with lived experience and/or allies gave reflections. During Children’s Chapel, the children made an Autism puzzle out of puzzle pieces and had a discussion about bullying (04/12/17).
- Beyond Our Walls:
Insuring accessible space when we are not at Church. When activities are held away from the Church, making sure venues are accessible to members/friends is key to making all feel included and welcome.
- Are We Accessible Yet?
Update and Audit our Church Spaces. To continue moving forward making our building and space as accessible as possible.
- Furniture was purchased for the Commons, including adjustable height tables
- Lighting has been improved.
- Pathways to elevators have been cleared.
- A black stripe has been painted on the stairs coming from the lower parking lot.
- Two signs will be made, one for the bottom of the stairs leading up to the entrance, to alert people about the accessible drop off and parking above. The Second sign to replace the current one at the parking lot, to be clearer how you enter the accessible entrance(drop off) and accessible parking spaces/ limited mobility parking spaces.The sign at the bottom of the stairs will have the handicap logo and state: Accessible Entrance/Parking upper level. The replacement sign will read Accessible Entrance and Parking : Next Driveway. It will also have the handicap logo (08/14/17).
- Soaps are scent-free.
- Items for coffee hour are at an accessible height.
- Website: Significant additions have been made to the church’s website to provide information to people with disabilities about access and accommodations. A page has also been dedicated to PWDs under the “Justice” heading: UU Church Rochester (02/07/17).
- Improvements to Make Bathrooms More Accessible:
- 1/17/17 Automatic door openers were installed in both main bathrooms.
- May 2015. The Church installed accessible hand towels in both bathrooms.
- Different handles in the handicap stalls.
- It’s in Everyone of Us to be Welcoming:
Making our Congregation a More Welcoming Community
- Workshop provided to ushers, greeters, and staff entitled, “Reminders and Tips to Provide a Welcoming Community for People with Disabilities.”
- The Disability Task Group co-sponsored a fundraising event with the Hospitality Group in February 2016 for Lee McKeeman, who will be participating in Hiking for Mental Health. Over 110 church and community members participated. Paul Choarkin, a child psychiatrist from the Mayo Clinic, gave an educational presentation. A front page article about the event appeared in the Post Bulletin $2,265 was raised for mental health research (04/16). Lee McKeeman raised approx. $25,000. Returned in December and shared slides with the congregation (01/19/16).
- Gail Bishop informed the group that support is urgently needed for a raise for group home staff. Although nursing home staff received a raise last year, group home staff did not. A significant shortage of staff and poor retention are considerable The Taskforce decided to do a “smart phone blitz” immediately due to the urgent need to contact legislators before decisions are made as bills are currently going to finance committees for consideration (04/09/17).
- Did You Know?
Information Blitz: What is our congregation already doing to address accommodations?
- The Disability Task Force had information published in the newsletter announcing the 25th anniversary of the ADA. This announcement encouraged congregants to visit the EqUUal Access website to join and to find ideas for celebrating the anniversary. They also encouraged congregants to consider watching a special TV program. Minnesota Public Television (‘tpt’) showed a 25th anniversary special on ADA history, local impact in Minnesota and continuing challenges. The release of the new book published by Beacon Press, Enabling Acts, was also publicized in the newsletter.
- A list of books purchased by the Disability Task Force and summaries of them have been submitted so that they can be added to the group’s webpage (04/16).
- List of adult books on disability-related topics has been made available in the church library (06/16).
- Ministerial packet: the Disability Task Group asked to provide information for the packet that went out to ministerial candidates, demonstrating that the AIM Program and the Disability Task Group are recognized as significant components of congregational life at UU Church of Rochester that differentiate the congregation from others (01/24/17).
The AIM Program officially ended June 30, 2022. Read the joint statements from EqUUal Access and the UUA here: https://www.equualaccess.org/aim-program/
Gail Bishop contributed the following during the Release of the AIM Program at the annual EqUUal Access Celebration June 16, 2022: