Invisible Barriers: Rethinking Islamic Accessibility for Everyone
By Heather Albright
As-salamu alaykum wa Rahmatullah,
Access to the Islamic community poses a double challenge, but Alhamdulillah, we persevere. Unfortunately, most masjid boards lack experience in working with brothers and sisters with disabilities. Consequently, individuals with disabilities often face an additional burden in gaining access to their local masjids.
There are a lot of questions that a mosque board can ask itself. Have you assessed whether your masjid is truly Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible? Have you tested it? Have you considered the accessibility of the Wudu area? Does paratransit service both sides of the masjid? Is there access to a Braille Quran? While English and Arabic copies are available, a sign language Quran, specific to the Quranic context, is essential. Is your masjid’s website W3C compliant? How inclusive is your masjid for persons with disabilities?
These questions arise from my lived experience within the Islamic community, contemplating accessibility issues across the USA and worldwide. Notably, the ADA does not legally cover masjids. However, if a masjid applies for Title 2 or 9 funding, ADA compliance becomes necessary to receive the funding.
Yet, beyond legal considerations, we must ponder Allah’s law. How will you answer to Allah when a person with a disability cannot access Allah’s house or community programs? Disability is not a punishment, and being around someone with a disability is not a punishment. We must eradicate any notion that implies Allah made a mistake in creating a person with a disability.
I am a part of IslamByTouch outreach, promoting the accessible Quran app and distributing English Braille Qurans globally. The organization also provides the 40 Hadiths and Fortress of the Muslim. Islam By Touch endeavors to educate communities about blindness and sight loss (www.islambytouch.com). During Ramadan, we hosted a worldwide accessible live Quran reading by a blind brother from Panama proficient in English, Spanish, and Arabic, using Braille in all three languages simultaneously.
Sister Yadira, a Puerto Rican and Spanish speaker, along with her husband manage IslamByTouch in the Dallas area. I am currently encouraging them to come to San Antonio to organize a conference. Brother Nadir’s family is from Palestine. His cousin is a blind imam in New Jersey who also has five or six kids. Despite his busy family life, he still graciously dedicates time to work with our blind Muslims group, MashaAllah.
Last year, we organized a live accessible Tarawih in the USA on YouTube and Zoom concurrently. Despite efforts, some masjids still struggle to stream their services online. We must advocate for accessibility beyond the ADA zone limits.
Our Eid celebrations on Zoom unite individuals from 25 countries, speaking over 30 languages. We connect, support, and celebrate together, transcending geographical and accessibility barriers.
I also want to highlight the Muhsen organization (https://muhsen.org/), which supports individuals with special needs. Their Arizona chapter is hosting some of our members at their event.
May our efforts lead to increased awareness, understanding, and inclusivity within our communities. Fee amanAllah.