Author: Francisco Uy

Guide for Accessible Congregations

The Guide has a lot of ideas and steps to help your community understand new ways to be accessible and inclusive. For a PDF version, click below:

English PDF: Download the Guide for Accessible Congregations as an Accessible PDF

You may also want to watch our 10 minute training video introduction to the guide.


Getting Started

  • Who are People with Disabilities?
  • What are Barriers?
  • Building Relationships with People with Disabilities

Getting Organized 

  • Step 1: Form an Inclusion Committee
  • Step 2: Identify Barriers
  • Step 3: Make a Plan

Getting Down to Work

  • 1- Strategies for Shifting Attitudes & Promoting 18 Active Participation
  • 2- Strategies for Improving Communications
  • 3-Strategies for Making Buildings and Facilities Accessible

Welcoming New People into Your Community 

  • Step 1: Have a Plan for Welcoming New Community Members
  • Step 2: Reach Out to People Who Are Not Currently Included in Your Community
  • Step 3: Build Relationships with People with Disabilities

How to Become a Welcome Community

Welcoming means accepting people as they are, and inviting them to participate in activities in ways that help them to live fully. The resources that follow are examples of welcome in different faith traditions.

Baha’i Resources:, a website by the Baha’i Community of Canada. This brief website lists other websites relevant to the community-focused, academic, and devotional activities of Baha’i worshippers, both in Canada and internationally., a website by the Baha’i Community of Canada. This fascinating website contains links to videos about members of Baha’i communities in Ontario and Quebec, especially those who were part of an international Baha’i youth conference in 2013.

Buddhist Resources:, a website furnished by the Bhante Dhammika, an Australian teacher of Nilambe meditation. The website is divided alphabetically, and further distinguished by subject-headings; the article on “Hospitality” offers specific scriptural references from the Tipitaka, one of the chronicles of the Buddha’s life, concerning ways to welcome others with food ad lodging.

Andy Rotman, “Buddhism and Hospitality: Expecting the Unexpected ad Acting Virtuously,”  a resource provided by Smith College. Rotman examines the meaning of the word translated from Sanskrit as “hospitality” both theologically and in terms of Buddhist scriptural narratives about entertaining guests.

Christian Resources:

That All May Worship: an Interfaith Welcome to People with Disabilities,  a resource by the American Association of People with Disabilities. This PDF outlines attitudes towards disability in American faith-based contexts (primarily Christian churches), explores ways that congregations can be hospitable towards and welcome people with disabilities, and examines the necessity of caring for the caregivers of people with disabilities.

Guiding Principles & Strategies for Inclusion in the Liturgy of Catholics with Disabilities,” these guiding principles are provided for Pastors, Liturgists, Parish Advocates, Liturgy Planners, Designers, Architects, and all those who have a concern for the design of the worship space and the planning of liturgical celebrations. They are provided for the purpose of assuring that all members of the worshiping community are able to participate fully in the worship life of their parishes and also to insure that all who are appropriately qualified can fully participate in the various liturgical ministries.

Everybody Belongs, Serving Together. A resource by the Christian Reformed Church in North America. This resource looks carefully at physical, intellectual, and emotional disabilities, and describes the central place of relationship in caring for people with disabilities. It outlines some disability etiquette, offers strategies to befriend and welcome people with various disabilities, emphasizes caring for caregivers, and illustrates the significance of calling disability advocates in the church context. It also includes an accessibility audit.”

Hindu Resources:

The Art of Hospitality in Hindu Life, a resource by Vishnu Mandir, a Hindu temple in Richmond Hill. This short pamphlet narrates specific stories of hospitality in Hindu contexts, describes how to be both a good guest and a good host, and compares and contrasts Hindu hospitality to Western notions of hospitality.

Heart of Hinduism: Hospitality.” A resource prepared by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. This webpage, part of a larger site full of resources on Hinduism, offers a concise definition of hospitality, as well as links to stories related to guests and hosts, scriptural passages, and questions for personal reflection.

Islamic Resources:

What are the examples of Muslim hospitality?” A resource created by Quora. On this brief but helpful webpage, the author lays out some of the essential parts of a theology of hospitality for Muslims.

Aisha Stacey, “Treating Guests the Islamic Way,” a resource provided by In this short blog-post, Stacey notes the “triangular” relationship of hospitality among God, the guest, and the host, and finds scriptural evidence for that relationship in the Qur’an and hadith about welcome.

Jewish Resources:

The Centrality of Hospitality to Judaism,” a resource created by the Morasha Syllabus, an introductory course to Judaism. This dense text with facing-page English and Hebrew translations examines the Jewish Law to demonstrate the value of hospitality in Jewish life; the unique blessing of hospitality to guests; the components of hosting; educating children in hosting; and the extraordinary blessing one offers by escorting guests out of the house.

Mark Greenspan, “The Impact of Kindness,” a resource-sheet by the Rabbinical Community, offers rabbinic commentary on Genesis 18 (Abraham’s visit by the three angels at Mamre), and examines how Abraham’s character issues in his actions.

Sikh Resources:, a website by the Sikh Coalition. This useful website describes the cultural and religious aspects of Sikhism, explores the Sikh commitment to justice for all people, and offers people in distress legal recourse.

Punjab Culture: Hospitality,” in this short article, provided by, the author defines hospitality as a central characteristic of Sikhs generally, and of Punjabi peoples in particular.  

Poster for Gurdwaras. “Becoming a Welcoming Community Values of the Sikh Community.” Created by Guneet Daid. Becoming a Welcoming Community

This poster was designed to present important values of the Sikh religion that inspire the Sikh community to commit to the inclusion of people with disabilities within the community. Three Sikh values are discussed in this poster that encourages the community to improving accessibility and engagement in meaningful religious activities. This poster can be printed and put up in the community to signify that the community considers the inclusion of people with disabilities as important or it can be uploaded to the faith community website if one exists. Becoming a Welcoming Community

Other Resources:

Why Focus on Welcoming? a resource by Community Activators

Choosing a Welcoming Orientation, a resource by Community Activators

Principles for Creating Hospitality in Communities, a resource by Community Activators

DeYoung, Terry A. and Mark Stephenson. Inclusion Handbook: Everybody Belongs, Everybody Serves. New York: Christian Reformed Press, 2013, a resource by the Christian Reformed Church.

Gift-Based Ways to Help Others, a resource by Community Activators.

The Art of Listening, a resource by Community Activators.

The Significance of Storytelling, a resource by Community Activators.

Gift-Based Ways to Help Others, a resource by Community Activators.

The Art of Listening, a resource by Community Activators.

The Significance of Storytelling, a resource by Community Activators.

Jain Communities

Jain Society of Toronto

Jain Society of Toronto on 48 Rosemeade Avenue, Etobicoke has taken the Our Doors Are Open workshop. This community welcomes people with disabilities.

If you are interested in participating in this community please contact:

(416) 251-8112

48 Rosemeade Avenue, Etobicoke, Ontario, M8Y 3A5


Add to the Accessibility Map

Add Your Worship Space and/or Community

Help others learn about accessibility features at Ontario worship spaces and communities. Our Door Are Open creates a community of people who care about access, and opens doors to a new world. Complete the brief form below to get a listing on Accessibility Cloud–the database for accessibility maps.

Table of Contents


Getting Started

  • Who are People with Disabilities?
  • What are Barriers?
  • Building Relationships with People with Disabilities

Getting Organized 

  • Step 1: Form an Inclusion Committee
  • Step 2: Identify Barriers
  • Step 3: Make a Plan

Getting Down to Work

  • 1- Strategies for Shifting Attitudes & Promoting 18 Active Participation
  • 2- Strategies for Improving Communications
  • 3-Strategies for Making Buildings and Facilities Accessible

Welcoming New People into Your Community 

  • Step 1: Have a Plan for Welcoming New Community Members
  • Step 2: Reach Out to People Who Are Not Currently Included in Your Community
  • Step 3: Build Relationships with People with Disabilities


Before, members of a Muslim family in Scarborough, Toronto, perform their ablutions, spread their prayer rugs facing Mecca, and begin their prostrations and prayers. In St. Michael’s Cathedral, worshippers line up for their turn to have a priest place a wafer on their hand, murmuring, “This is the body of Christ, given for you.” In the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Hindu monks perform morning hymns (prabhatiya), and show respect to their deities with offerings of food and garments. The Unitarian Congregation of Guelph gathers to explore important life questions, support each other in living with purpose and meaning, and work toward peace and justice.

The monks of the Gajang Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center in Parkdale, Toronto, perform meditation and hear teachings from their branch of Buddhism. On the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, First Nations men, women, and children honour the land of their ancestors. For Jewish communities in Ontario and around the world, Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday. In the Sikh communities of Brampton, the Ragis recite, sing, and interpret the verses from the Guru Granth Sahib in the presence of the community.

These and countless other moments in the lives of people across Ontario are threads of the tapestry we call religion. All religions share the goal of binding people to something beneath the surface of life. All believers ultimately desire to include everybody, bringing together people across all walks of life into their community. This unique atmosphere comes about from ritual, song, prayer, committee work, charitable work, hospitality, and other social and spiritual practices. Everyone needs to be included in these experiences, but sometimes people with disabilities are not.

Full and meaningful participation in rituals, worship, and faith community activities affirms belonging and is often an extension of one’s faith. People with disabilities in your community may be excluded from participation in these activities because many traditions, activities, and spaces have been designed without considering the needs of people with disabilities. Ontario faith communities can enhance their welcoming traditions and include people with disabilities by:

  • Reflecting on the current involvement of people with visible and invisible disabilities in their community.
  • Identifying and removing barriers of attitude, communication, and architecture.
  • Encouraging people with disabilities to participate in the religious, social, and cultural life of their community.

In each section of this guide, you will find facts about people with disabilities, strategies, tips, and various resources on accessibility and inclusion, especially in faith contexts. It is our hope that the resources included here will be used to open the minds, hearts, and doors of faith communities to people with all kinds of abilities. Let’s begin!

Getting Started

This section will help you understand disability and barriers to participation, as well as provide tips for how to start working with people with disabilities in your community.

Who are People with Disabilities?

They are our neighbours, friends, and family members and contribute to our communities. They want to participate in all aspects of our faith community.

When thinking of people with disabilities, some individuals tend to think only of people who use wheelchairs and who have visible physical disabilities. But disabilities can also be invisible; it is not always apparent when someone has a disability.

In Ontario, disability is broadly defined and includes deafness, hearing loss, developmental, learning, and mental health disabilities, and anyone who relies on a service animal, wheelchair, or other assistive device. In fact:

  • Less than 3 percent of people with disabilities use wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
  • About 1 in 7 people in Ontario has a disability. That’s 1.65 million people. Chances are that every family in Ontario is touched by disability through their family members, friends, etc.
  • By 2035 this number is expected to rise to 1 in 5 people as the population ages. As people grow older, they tend to acquire disabilities, such as hearing loss and vision loss, among others. Places of worship need to accommodate them so they can continue to be vibrant, contributing members of the faith community.
  • People with disabilities are not a homogeneous group; they consist of people who may not hear well, see well, or walk easily, or they may have limited coordination or dexterity, or may process information slowly.

Myths about People with Disabilities*

Myth: People with disabilities are inferior to “normal” people and their lives are very different. 




Reality: The term “normal” is relative. We all have different abilities, talents, interests, and personalities—you name it! People with disabilities go to school, get married, work, have families, play, do laundry, go shopping, eat out, travel, volunteer, vote, pay taxes, laugh, cry, plan, and dream—just like everyone else.



Myth: We need to feel sorry for people with disabilities.

Reality: That is patronizing. People with disabilities do not need pity; they need access to opportunities.


Myth: People with disabilities are brave and courageous.

Reality: Adjusting to a disability does not require bravery or courage, it requires one to adapt to a lifestyle.


Myth: People with disabilities are brave and courageous.

Reality: Adjusting to a disability does not require bravery or courage, it requires one to adapt to a lifestyle.


Myth: You should be careful when you’re talking to people with disabilities, because they are easily offended if you use the wrong word.

Reality: You just need to be as polite and respectful as you would be when speaking to anyone. If you’re not sure what to say or do, it’s okay to ask (but be sure to listen).


Myth: People with disabilities do not want to participate in activities.

Reality: People with disabilities have the same preferences, perceptions, attitudes, habits, and needs as people without disabilities, and they are looking for the same quality of participation and opportunity.


Everyone, regardless of ability, deserves to be treated with the same dignity and respect.

* (Adapted from: Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, Count Us In: Removing Barriers to Political Participation.)

What are Barriers?

Welcoming places of worship are inclusive from the front door to the pulpit, the bimah or the minbar.

Barriers are things that make it difficult—or sometimes impossible—for people with disabilities to participate fully in everyday life, including worshipping.

Many people think disabilities are barriers, but that’s not the case. Barriers usually develop because the needs of people with disabilities are not considered. It is also important to acknowledge that sometimes long-standing faith traditions may create barriers. Once you understand what accessibility barriers are, you will be able to identify them more easily in your place of worship.

Attitudinal Barriers

Attitude is perhaps the most difficult barrier to overcome because it’s hard to change the way people think and behave. Attitudinal barriers may result in people with disabilities being treated differently than people without disabilities.


  • Assuming someone with a speech impairment has intellectual limitations and speaking to them in a manner that would be used with a child.
  • Speaking to a person’s support person rather than the person with the disability.
  • Ignoring or avoiding people with disabilities altogether. Remember, attitude is a major barrier that’s within our power to change.
  • Feeling afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, or being rejected.
  • Not addressing long-standing faith traditions that may create barriers, such as kneeling, prostration, or scripture proclamation.

Information and Communication Barriers

Information and communication barriers arise when a person with a disability cannot easily receive and/or understand information that is available to others.


  • Small print in prayer books, bulletins, and posters that cannot be read by people with low vision.
  • Spoken word in preaching that cannot be heard by a person who is hard of hearing.

Architectural or Structural Barriers

Architectural or structural barriers may result from a building’s design elements that prevent access for people with disabilities.


  • Door knobs that cannot be turned by a person with limited mobility and strength, such as someone with arthritis.
  • Stairs to a pulpit, a choir loft, or an upper floor that prevent access by a person using a wheelchair.
  • Coatracks that cannot be reached.
  • Clutter in the entrance or hallway.

Building Relationships with People with Disabilities

Members of your community may be unsure about the best way to interact with someone who has a disability. As with most human interactions, there is some etiquette to follow. Here are a few tips on interacting and building relationships with people who have various disabilities.

Using the Right Words

  • Use person-first language that puts the individual first; for example, say “man who uses a scooter” not “handicapped man” or “wheelchair user.”

General Tips

  • Ask “How may I help you?” and listen to the response (fig. 3).
  • Be honest that you may not know exactly what to say or how to help. Saying that you do not know is the first step to learning something new.
  • Include the person with a disability in resolving the experienced barrier.
  • Demonstrate a warm welcome to potential new members.
  • Avoid stereotypes and do not make assumptions about what type of disability or disabilities the person has. Some disabilities are not visible. It’s better to wait until individuals describe their situation to you rather than make your own assumptions. Many types of disabilities have similar characteristics, and your assumptions may be wrong.
  • Be patient. People with certain kinds of disabilities may take a little longer to understand and respond. A good start is to listen carefully.
  • If you cannot understand what the person is saying, politely ask them to repeat themselves.
  • Do not touch assistive devices, including wheelchairs, without permission.

Tips for Interacting with People Who Use Wheelchairs

  • Assist people who use wheelchairs, who wish to be as independent as possible, only when they request it.
  • If you are planning an outing, make sure that the destination is barrier-free to avoid problems for people who use wheelchairs or have other needs.
  • Speak directly to the person, not to their companion or support person.
  • If you need to have a lengthy conversation, consider sitting so that you can make eye contact.
  • Don’t touch or move a wheelchair without permission.

Tips for Interacting with People Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

  • Speak clearly (without overemphasizing).
  • Use short sentences.
  • Reduce background noise and face the listener.
  • Get the person’s attention before beginning to speak. Try a gentle touch on the shoulder or wave your hand. Use sound amplification technology if it is available.
  • If necessary, ask if another method of communicating would be easier (for example, using a pen and paper).
  • Arrange seating in small groups, preferably in circles or at round tables.
  • Ask speakers to provide outlines in large meetings.

Tips for Interacting with People with Vision Loss

  • Do not assume the person cannot see you.
  • Identify yourself by name when you are approaching.
  • Tell the person when you are leaving the conversation or area.
  • Be precise and descriptive when providing directions or instructions.
  • Offer your elbow to guide them as needed. Walk as you usually would.
  • Ask if they would like you to read any printed material out loud to them.
  • Offer to describe information.
  • Do not touch or address the person’s guide dog. Remember that the guide dog is not a pet, it is a working animal. If you are not sure if the animal is a pet or a guide dog, ask the person.

Tips for Interacting with People with Autism

  • Routine is important for many people with autism. Surprises are often scary. Allow for predictability and give advance warning of changes. Confusion may manifest as anger, while sudden, loud noises—including unexpected applause—may cause fear.
  • Give a normal greeting with brief eye contact, whether a response is forthcoming or possible. Greet the person by name.
  • Offer, but do not demand, a handshake.
  • Provide aides for worship-related gatherings or events.
  • Offer visual support for communications and or instructions.
  • Remember that for some people certain sensations that most people take for granted are distasteful or even painful.

Tips for Interacting with People with Alzheimer’s Disease or Other Kinds of Dementia

  • Listen closely to what the person is saying.
  • Think about the feelings behind the words the person is saying. (Our facial expressions, eye contact, posture, arm, hand and leg positions—all of our body language speaks as loudly as our words).
  • Do not ask the person to remember things that have happened in the past. Talk about what you remember or know happened, and how they were a part of it.
  • Treat the person with the same respect and consideration you have for everyone else.
  • Be patient.

Tips for Interacting with People with Intellectual Disabilities

  • Extend common courtesies, such as shaking hands.
  • If you are having difficulty understanding what a person is saying, ask rather than pretend to understand.
  • Have a family member or individual within the community welcome and sit with a person and assist during worship, if needed.
  • Include children and/or adults with cognitive impairments in as many community programs as possible.
  • Use plain language and speak in short sentences.
  • Be supportive and patient.
  • Speak directly to the person, not to their companion or support person.

Have You Tried These Things?

  • Establish procedures for welcoming new members, including members with disabilities.
  • Ask the new member what they most want to get from the community.
  • If you know that a person with a disability is planning to visit your place of worship, ask before their first visit if they will want any help during their visit.
  • Review the community’s ability to provide accessibility accommodations for new members, such as large print books, wheelchair access, and interpreting.
  • If a person with disabilities is going to participate in one of your groups, focus on discovering their different skills and identifying ways they could contribute those gifts.

Progress Checklist

  • We recognize the existence and diversity of people with disabilities all around us.
  • We recognize that barriers may develop if the needs of people with disabilities are not considered.
  • We understand that an attitudinal barrier is the most difficult barrier to overcome, but that power to change our attitudes is within us.
  • If we do not know exactly what to say or how to help, then we will ask people with disabilities questions instead of making our own assumptions about how to build relationships with them.

Links to Implementation Examples

Getting Organized

To start making your faith community more accessible follow these three steps:

  1. Form an Inclusion Committee
  2. Identify barriers
  3. Make a plan

You can learn more about each step in the sections below.

Step 1: Form an Inclusion Committee

A good way to make inclusion and accessibility a priority in your community is to form an Inclusion Committee (also called a “disability awareness committee” or an “accessibility committee”); this is a group of people in your faith community that looks after the needs of people with diverse abilities. Members of inclusion committees are the community’s champions for accessibility for people with disabilities.

You can begin by recruiting people with disabilities for leadership roles within your community. Having people with lived experience of disability in leadership positions is critical for creating and supporting a more inclusive infrastructure. They will be able to give advice on accessibility and inclusion matters within your community based on their personal/professional knowledge, expertise, and experience.

Tips for the Inclusion Committee meetings

  • Meet regularly, at least three times per year.
  • Discuss the needs of people with disabilities.
  • Plan ways to change the space and their practices in order to improve access.
  • Find (and take steps to repair) areas that have challenges for people with disabilities.
  • A representative from the Inclusion Committee should be part of the place of worship’s management or operations team to ensure that accessibility is given prominence on management agendas.

Help your community sustain its diverse membership and maintain enthusiasm for diversity goals by bringing up the topic of inclusion when planning all activities and continuing to take steps that continually improve and integrate inclusive thinking.

Step 2: Identify Barriers

Although accessibility may seem like a practical issue, it is also a theological one. When a faith community has barriers to accessing its facilities, rituals, and practices, the community is making a statement about its beliefs and about who should be included. Identifying and removing barriers is a key step in the inclusion process.

Brief Accessibility Checklist

Your inclusion committee will be especially helpful for identifying barriers in your faith community. Barriers were described in the Getting Started section above. You can use our checklist  to begin checking the accessibility of your services and facilities  in the resources section.

Step 3: Make a Plan

Are you missing a few things from the Brief Accessibility Checklist? Perhaps all you need is a simple tweak. You may be worried that adding some of the features on the checklist may be too costly. Don’t worry! There are always creative ways to tackle problems that are innovative and affordable. Read the rest of the guide for ideas. Also, check out our website ( for what other communities are already doing. Do you have an accessibility solution that you are really proud of? Share your idea with us on our Facebook page (

Some Ideas for Making Your Plan

  • Look at the items that have been checked “not yet.” With your committee, consider which of the items you can remedy easily and which ones will take more time and resources. There are tips in the Getting Down to Work section below to help you learn ways to remove barriers. You may need to consult this section while making your plan.
  • Select the order that you want to address each item. You may want to start with the easier ones and just one of the items that will take more resources.
  • For each item, determine what resources (people, material, money) you will need and how you will get them.
  • Have a short-term and long-term plan that will let you address each of the items. Your short-term plan should have more details and specific dates. Your long-term plan may have step-by-step goals like setting aside funds or applying for grants.
  • Remember to consult with members of your community who have disabilities and check the Our Doors Are Open resources section.

Links to Implementation Examples