Author: Francisco Uy

Participation of People with Disabilities

Once people with disabilities have experienced welcome, they want to participate—to share in the community, and to give back authentically. Participation can look like reading, praying, singing, cooking or serving food, or many other activities. The resources below concern participation through the lens of different faiths.


Christian Resources:

Including Adults with Disabilities in Religious Life and Education,” a resource created by the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. This in-depth guidebook for religious leaders and “faith partners” (faithful allies of people with various disabilities) outlines the creation of an “inclusion plan” for people with disabilities, and some barriers to education that worshippers with disabilities face.

Disabilities and Faith,” this resource, created by the Center for Persons with Disabilities in Utah, states the problem of inaccessible churches, and describes in simple terms both how to encourage participation of people with disabilities in Christian faith communities, and how to get in touch with other organizations who perform disability education and advocacy.

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.

Islamic Resources:

Najah Zaaeed, “Accessibility, Acceptance, Islamic Education,” a resource created by Muslim Matters. This article discusses many of the challenges faced by Muslims with disabilities in terms of participating in their mosques, especially women; that said, it also points out some simple technological solutions to some problems of access, and points out the significance of physical access.

The Fatal Feminist, “The Mosque and (In)Accessibility,” a resource by the Fatal Feminist. This short blog-post reveals some of the frustrations of Muslim American woman who asks significant questions about justice and access for Muslim women and Muslims with disabilities.

Jewish Resources:

Jane E. Herman, “10 Vital Jewish Resources on Disability Awareness and Inclusion,” a resource created by the Union for Reform Judaism. This short blog-post is a collection of resources that concern the inclusion of people with disabilities in both Jewish and secular contexts.

Yachad / National Jewish Council for People with Disabilities, Disability Inclusion Resource Guide for Rabbis, is a resource created by Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities, “an agency of the Orthodox Union, is a 6,500-member global organization dedicated to the Inclusion of all Jews with disabilities in every aspect of Jewish life.” This short booklet claims that “inclusion begins with the rabbi,” discusses the creation of synagogue inclusion-committees, describes the North American Inclusion Month, provides support for inclusion from the Torah and various rabbinic sources, and offers activities for adults, adolescents, and children.

Other Resources:

Helen Sanderson, “Person Centred Planning: Key Features and Approaches.”  This resource outlines the important features of Person-Centred Planning, a tool in the helping professions that can enable people with disabilities to set and achieve their own goals, and to flourish in a personal sense.

Inclusive Religious Practices

A significant part of both genuine welcome and sustained participation is practices, embodied habits that worshippers can perform over and over again within the community. The resources below outline numerous practices that include people with disabilities in diverse faith-traditions.


Buddhist Resources:

“Creating Inclusive Classrooms in Thailand,” a resource created by the International Council for the Day of Vedak. This insightful PDF examines the struggles of seven school principals in Thailand who chose to invest in educational tools centred on the inclusion of people with disabilities, such as Down Syndrome.

Diversity in Shambhala,” a resource created by Shambhala International. This webpage summarizes the paradigm of Shambhala, a not-for-profit organization based on Buddhist teachings with an interfaith component, in terms of diversity. We heartily recommend the whole website for your perusal.

Christian Resources:

David W. Anderson, “The Task of Christian Education in Creating an Inclusive Worldview,” a resource provided by the Christian Educators’ Journal. This fascinating article defines inclusion as “a state of being that gives rise to a sense of belonging and acceptance,” describes disability as a “human problem,” and offers various traits of an “interdependent classroom.”

Religion and Spirituality Resources,” a resource created by the Vanderbilt Kennedy Centre, is a list of links to various online resources (primarily guides and tip-sheets) connecting disability, (Christian) spirituality, and religious education.  

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 ensure that all who are appropriately qualified can fully participate in the various liturgical ministries.

Islamic Resources:

Rabia S. Khedr, “Creating an Inclusive Ummah,” a resource provided by the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities. This report describes the physical and social barriers that Muslims with disabilities face in attending mosques in Toronto, and generally participating in their communities’ social and spiritual life.

Hurisa Guvercin, “People with Disabilities from an Islamic Perspective,” a resource provided by the Fountain Magazine. This article discusses special education and inclusion from an Islamic perspective, offers some scriptural and historical evidence of inclusion in Islamic cultures, and joins Islamic teachings on inclusive education to federal American legislation on disability.

Jewish Resources:

Penina Goldstein & Melinda Jones Ault, “Including Individuals with Disabilities in a Faith Community: A Framework and Example,” in Journal of Disability and Religion 19.1 (2015): 1-14. This resource is a study of the needs and gifts of a young Jewish man on the autism spectrum; it chronicles the way that his family, his school, and his faith-community have learned to include him.

Hineinu: Jewish Guide for Creating Inclusive Communities.” Like the PDF by Yachad above, this resource, created by Hineinu (Hebrew for “here we are”), a Jewish non-profit dedicated to inclusion, offers tips on accessibility and inclusion for rabbis and educators, discusses Jewish scriptural references to inclusion, defines the Jewish Disability Awareness Month, and provides other resources.  

Other Resources:

Helen Sanderson, “Person Centred Planning: Key Features and Approaches,” this resource outlines the important features of Person-Centred Planning, a tool in the helping professions that can enable people with disabilities to set and achieve their own goals, and to flourish in a personal sense.

Mary Earl, “Re-Framing Education about Beliefs and Practices in Schools” (Cambridge: Cambridge, 2015), a resource created by Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education and the Woolf Institute, a non=profit that studies the relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This informative book discusses the cultural transmission of beliefs and practices in religious faith, the concept of identity formation, and the ways that these concepts intertwine in the university classroom.

Accessible Buildings

Physical accessibility is a vital facet of inclusion! While the resources in this category are not organized by faith community, they all reflect the significance of physical access to worship spaces and social activities.


A Planning Guide for Accessible Conferences,”  a resource by the Council for Ontarian Universities. This resource, a PDF, provides a comprehensive look at the logistics of planning an accessible conference at an Ontario university; its focus on the physical accessibility of the building, and its equally-significant emphasis on the accessibility of information is easily transferable to other contexts, such as a worship service or faith-based program.

A Planning Checklist for Accessible Events,”, a resource by the Council for Ontarian Universities. This PDF, a short list very similar to the previous resource, outlines numerous considerations in terms of the physical and informational accessibility of planned events.

Breaking Down Barriers: a Multi-faith Guide to Accessibility in Places of Worship, a resource created by REENA. In this three-part Guide, Reena, a Jewish non-profit organization in Toronto that promotes the dignity and full inclusion of people with developmental disabilities, outlines the creation of accessibility committees and networks, the commissioning of accessibility “officers” (specific champions of inclusion in individual synagogues), and the overall implementation of the Customer Service Standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in Jewish contexts.

Clearing Our Path: Creating accessible environments ­for people with vision loss, a resource by CNIB.

Creating Accessible Media and Communication

Accessible messages and media are also a crucial part of inclusive thought and action, because they can include people of diverse abilities in terms of concept, language, and symbol. The resources in this section offer ways to make media more accessible.


Accessible Communications,” a resource created by the Human Resources department of the University of Toronto. This webpage defines the Information and Communications Standard of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and provides links to other websites and online resources that allow people with diverse abilities to create and use the University’s web-based content.

Information and Communications Standard,” a resource created by AccessForward and the Government of Ontario. This online training module introduces government employees and other workers to the Information and Communications Standard of the AODA.

Planning an Accessible Event,” a resource created by Ryerson University. This short PDF describes the planning of fully-accessible events: this planning includes significant emphasis on assistive devices, accessible and alternative formats for advertising and media, and ways to create physical access in university buildings for people with disabilities.

About,” a resource created by Accessible Media Inc. In their own words, AMI is “a not-for-profit multimedia organization serving more than five million Canadians who are blind, partially sighted, deaf, hard of hearing, mobility or print restricted.” They aim to make media and advertising accessible to all Canadians.

Accessibility Checklist

“Accessible Worship-Service Checklist,” a resource created by the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD, and adapted from the IDRC’s BigIDeA project.  It deals with the ways to make events (such as worship services and conferences) more accessible.  

Download the Accessibility Checklist PDF file here.


Advertising/Registration

    • Have you provided ample notice to allow people to arrange accommodations?
    • Have you included a disability accommodation statement on all advertising?
    • Have you collected info about special needs through registration forms?
    • Have your parishioners identified dietary preferences?
    • Does your advertising include ontact information for accessibility requests?
    • Has your community followed up with responses to accommodation requests?
    • Does your advertising include international accessibility symbols?
  • Is your community scent-free, as a rule?

Planning ahead

    • Have you trained volunteers to accommodate accessibility issues?
    • Can people with disabilities clearly identify those volunteers?
    • Have you reminded your volunteers to ask guests, “How may I help you?”
    • Have you booked accessibility supports in advance?
    • Have you informed interpreters, captioners and note-takers in advance?
    • Will you explain the tasks of interpreters/captioners during worship?
    • Have you considered childcare outside of business hours?
    • Have you considered food for interpreters, attendants, and childminders?
  • Have you reminded organizers and staff of your scentfree practice/policy?

The Venue

    • Has your community suggested realistic transport options?
    • Have you provided info about accessible parking?
    • Have you offered main wheelchair access and alternatives?
    • Have you made outdoor and indoor pathways free of barriers?
    • Have you given access to all needed indoor space independently or with assistance?
    • Have you made elevators fully-inclusive for diverse end-users (ideally, at least)?
  • Have you provided inclusive, clear, high-contrast signage?

Room Set-up

    • Have you set up the space to be generous to users of wheelchairs and scooters?
    • Have you provided accessible seating areas in front, middle and back, if possible?
    • Have you reserved seating for people with disabilities?
    • Does your worship-space include adjustable lighting?
    • Do your acoustics provide minimal echo?
    • Are washrooms accessible, and at an adequate distance for all users?
    • Are electrical cables/cords covered securely for safe crossover?
    • Does your community promote a smokefree environment?
  • Are organizers, presenters and volunteers trained for emergency evacuations?

Suggestions for effective presenters

    • Be sure to start on time!
    • Have you offered congregants materials in large-print and digital formats?
    • Have you had extra hardcopies printed?
    • Are audio/visual controls adjustable?
    • Can you offer verbal descriptions of visual contents?
    • Are any and all videos captioned?
  • Have you provided congregants with necessary bio or dietary breaks?

Food and Refreshments

    • Would persons using wheelchairs find your food, drinks and utensils easy to reach?
    • Are bendable straws and cups with handles available?
  • Is food/buffet assistance available?

Service Animals

    • Remember to discourage congregants from petting service animals!
    • Have you offered a relief area for service animals?
  • Have you provided service animals with a water-bowl?

Acknowledgement

The project team of Our Doors are Open: Welcoming People with Disabilities at Places of Worship wishes to thank the EnAbling Change program of the Government of Ontario for its financial support in the production of this project. The team also acknowledges that this work was completed on the land of Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, without whom none of us would be here. The land that we all work, live, and interact with on a daily basis has a history that we need to be reminded of and it continues to be the site of Indigenous resistance and survival to this day.

Members of the Team

 

Vera Roberts, PhD. Manager. Vera is Research Facilitator of the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) where she helps plan IDRC projects as well as plans and carries out iterative studies, evaluations and usability assessments for IDRC research and development projects or provides assistance to others in developing survey and assessment tools.

 

David H. Pereyra, Ph.D. Coordinator. David is architect from Buenos Aires, and earned a degree of Doctor in Philosophy of Theology at the University of Toronto. Dr. Pereyra’s academic focus centres on interdisciplinary aspects of our multicultural society, as expressed through art, music, film, worship, multimedia, technology and sacred spaces. He is particularly interested in ritual spaces as iconic points of reference that provide unique meanings to the collective memory of a culture, and how creative experiences of transmitting information and communication can reach users and vice-versa. His Latin American, European and North American multi-cultural background greatly enrich his experience of the world and his scholarly work. Dr. Pereyra organizes collaboration and community engagement of over 90 collaborating research organizations at the Inclusive Design Research Centre, at OCAD University.

 

Teresa Lee. MDes Candidate Team member. While completing her Honours BSc in Psychology and Human Biology at the University of Toronto, she discovered her passion of working with children and youth with developmental disabilities and autism. In the last 10 years, she has worked with hundreds of children and youth in various capacities. She currently works as a consultant to help students successfully transition from clinical settings into schools in Toronto. She is also currently finishing her graduate study in Inclusive Design at OCAD University.

 

Michael Walker, Th.D. Mike is a doctor in theology at the Toronto School of Theology, at the University of Toronto; his dissertation on baptism, Holy Communion, community, and people with disabilities. Mike worships at the Jeremiah Community, an intentional community in Parkdale, Toronto. Aside from his communications role in Our Doors are Open at the IDRC, Mike is the co-author of the Student Christian Movement’s Disability, Faith, and Justice Devotional (2016). In his spare time, Mike is an avid reader, a poet, and a lover of good music.

 

Francisco Uy. Team member. Francisco Uy is a third-year advertising student at OCAD University. He is in charge of the project’s social media and design for promotional materials, including the accessibility guide. He lives by the mantra, “love the neighbor”, a driving force that encouraged him to join the project.

 

About

Our Doors Are Open was developed to offer diverse faith communities in Ontario simple and creative ideas to help increase inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities in worship services, events and all activities of the community. More and more, new voices are challenging old approaches to understanding and explaining accessibility and inclusion. Our team of experts have lived experience of disabilities and they have given special attention to issues of inclusion raised by members of disability organizations and by voices from the disability community.

Our Vision

Our vision is for people with disabilities to be able to enjoy their spiritual beliefs and actively participate alongside other members of their faith communities.

Who We Are

Our team is part of the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) at OCAD University. IDRC  has worked locally and internationally since its inception in 1994 to build a more inclusive world. We bring inclusive design thinking in our core activities:

    • Growing design and development practices
    • Creating inclusive digital tools that others can use and contribute to
    • Teaching the principles and techniques of inclusive design
    • Advocating for inclusion in international standards
  • Providing services that match solutions with individuals

What We Do

To truly empower people with disabilities to become agents of positive change in their local communities, we recognize that everyone has a role to play. Our Doors Are Open helps all faith communities to understand how to open their mind, hearts, and doors to people with all kinds of abilities.

Our team brings together like-minded faith community members to take part in workshops and seminars that span across Ontario to learn how to open their doors to people with disabilities.

What We Offer to Faith Communities in Ontario

Our Doors are Open offers a series of clear and straightforward suggestions in order to promote inclusive thinking in your community.  You can:

Contact Us

There are many ways to get in touch with the Our Doors Are Open team:

  1. Our Doors Are Open Project Coordinator David Pereyra: dpereyra@ocadu.ca 
  2. Phone: 416-977-6000 x4672
  3. Visit us in the Inclusive Design Research Centre: 205 Richmond Street West. Toronto, ON  M5V 1V3
  4. Email us directly below:

Participating Communities

These are communities who have participated in the Our Doors are Open project who are demonstrating that they want to know more about being inclusive and accessible. You can see communities that are of interest to you by following the links below or  in the navigation panel.

If your community isn’t listed here, you can add it filling the form right bellow:

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Note: be sure to add your community to accessibility map and let others know how you are accessible.