ROCKINGHAM — Haywood Morrison Jr. said he missed a former classmate’s funeral because Providence Missionary Baptist Church isn’t wheelchair-accessible.
Morrison said the church could be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for not having a wheelchair ramp. The funeral several weeks ago at Providence Missionary Baptist was the third one he said he’s been unable to attend because of accessibility issues.
“Do you realize how hard it is for senior citizens having to climb rows of steps?” Morrison said. “Or not being able to climb steps at all like myself, as well as not being able to get my wheelchair into the church?”
Providence apologized for the difficulty Morrison encountered and said church leaders are working to make sure all services are accessible to those who wish to attend.
“Our church was built in 1920, so needless to say, that was prior to the American with Disabilities Act,” said Dr. Lamont Johnson, the church’s pastor. “In recent years, we have worked to make our church accommodating to those with disabilities, and I hate to know he was unable to make it in the sanctuary.”
President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990. It sets construction standards that buildings open to the public must meet so that disabled people can enjoy full use of the facilities.
Johnson explained that the church does have a wheelchair lift that glides attendees to the top of the steps. Morrison said he wasn’t able to get out of his chair to get into the lift.
“I didn’t think I would have to address this problem after the second missed funeral, due to the fact,” Morrison said. “This church several years ago was in the process of rebuilding across the street from the present one and in hopes that they would be in compliance with the ADA Act. I see this has not happened.”
Johnson said the church is in the midst of an “aggressive building program,” and a new facility is being built across the street that will be up to code. Johnson was unsure when the new building would be finished and operational.
“Plans are drawn, and we’re working with architects and banks to get funding,” he said.
Morrison said he would like for church leaders to sit down and revisit this issue to make sure disabled people who are in wheelchairs don’t feel that they are discriminated against.
Johnson said the church plans on writing an apology letter to him for the trouble.
“Though it’s beyond our control, we are really sad that someone wanted to be a part of a funeral and could not,” said Johnson. “Under my administration, we have been extremely conscious of those with disabilities to make sure they have access to our church.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674 and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.