Anglican Parish: Trinidad & Tobago
Contributed by Ashton Gomez
Within our Caribbean context, some have said that we are a people found to be warm, energetic and inviting. While this may be true to some extent it would be wrong of me to say that this goes across the board. The people of the Caribbean have not been as open to dealing with issues that affect people living with disabilities. We have found ourselves in a world where politically correct language has begun to change our attitude towards people with disabilities. We are a developing nation and therefore many of the hurdles that we face are attitudinal and not necessarily that of resources.
Most places of worship do not cater to people with disabilities because for a very long time it has not been at the forefront of our psyche. I suppose that it has been inculcated into us that being born with a disability or developing a disability later in life, is some sort of punishment or generational curse that is being meted out by God for sins committed
I place this preamble here to present a context that is a reality within the Caribbean in varying degrees. It is slowly being dismantled through education and influences from other parts of the world.
Bearing all that was said above this would be the procedures that I would adopt for the congregation in which I serve.
Plan for forming a welcoming committee
1. Educating the members of our current welcoming committee with a better definition of who may be considered to be a person that has a disability. The range of which can be mild that it may appear that the person is not impaired in any way to the extreme that they may not be able to help themselves but nevertheless to ensure that the dignity of the person remains intact at all times. To assist in educating we shall seek the help of the Government as they have many persons with the professional insight to help us with the proper terms and skills that would be necessary to implement a functional team to meet the needs of an ever diverse community. This partnership will also allow us to access grants for modification of the church where it may be necessary to create a safe and welcoming environment for new members.
2. Sensitization of the congregation – this will be done to reduce and eventually remove the idea that disability is a taboo subject and that people that are living with a disability can contribute to the life of the church. It will also allow for prejudice to be dealt with and for “uncomfortable” questions to be addressed. We will have to involve the congregation in having an input as to how we can adjust the worship space to make persons will disabilities feel that they belong and that by being there they are are not seen or treated in an uncharitable way.
3. Implementation – after the training, sensitization and becoming educated on the different levels of disability we should;
a. Greet everyone so that no one feels that they are being treated differently from anyone else, that we would speak clearly and at a rate that is not too fast or use words that only a few may understand.
b. Have seats or spaces available in varying areas of the worship space that can be accessed by a wheelchair or one using aids for walking. It is not yet a common practice for persons who are blind to use guide dogs, this is another instance of how culture impacts upon how we function as a society.
c. Members of the welcoming committee should bring to the attention of another member of the committee any feelings of discomfort when carrying out their duty, this, however, should be done discreetly so as not to make a new member that may have a disability feel unwanted or unwelcome.
d. Introduce reading material for worship in larger print for those who have reduced vision, proper working sound system for those with diminishing hearing and an interpreter for those who are hearing impaired. Some of these issues can be dealt with under training so that new skills can be developed to make an even greater connection.
e. When inviting new members, we should find out if they would need any special assistance and also ask existing members who are differently-abled to be a part of the committee to better interpret the ways in which we can improve our hospitality to others that are differently-abled.
4. Monthly committee meetings will be scheduled to continue the assessment of what has been implemented, what may need to change and what we may need to do differently. Above all members will need to be reminded that the work will always need to be improved as we go along and may encounter new challenges.
Catholic Parish Church: Mzuzu Catholic. Malawi
Contributed by Fr. Austin Ndowera
Inclusive celebrations are becoming so common in our churches. There are greater numbers of Christians with disabilities coming for worship these days. Transitioning Christians with disabilities from self-contained special worship to inclusive general worship in our churches here in Africa (Malawi) is not an overnight process. It requires thoughtful planning. Training, appropriate Christian supports, resources, personnel, and a meaningful individual educational program need to exist prior to the new church placement.
It’s also important to remember that if the Christian with disabilities has never experienced an inclusive worship, then chances are, neither has his or her fellow Christians. Christians in the general worship service might be curious about the situation, may feel anxious about having a Christian with disabilities in our churches here, or have misconceptions about Christians with disabilities. In my country here and especially in the parish I am working, we are far behind, I should admit.
Sometimes we intentionally avoid conversations with people with disabilities, citing ‘fear of causing offence’, ‘feeling uncomfortable’, or ‘not knowing what to talk about’ as the main reasons we worry about.
Here are some tips that I will have to help facilitate a smooth transition for Christians with disabilities to inclusive church worship.
Tips to facilitate a smooth Transition (Via the Committee of Inclusion)
- Establishing Basic Principles. Establish general concepts about Christians with and without disabilities through small Christian Community discussions. Primarily, I will help the Christians that:
- Everyone wants to belong and be included
- Everyone is different
- Everyone has areas of strengths and areas of weaknesses
- Letting Christians share. Christians will be given an opportunity to talk about themselves, their strengths and interests You should allow others to ask questions. (I will make sure I talk about the types of questions that can be asked prior to the activity.)
- Dispelling Myths. You should dis-spell any myths and misunderstandings about students with disabilities. Most importantly:
- That there are disabilities that you can see and some that you can’t;
- That physical disability does not determine a person’s intelligence; and
- That people with disabilities are people first.
- Addressing Challenges. Address Christians’-specific issues that are important for the church members to know about in order to interact and learn alongside each other. For example, if a Christian has an allergy, you should invite a practician in to talk about allergies and the importance of keeping products that make people so out. If a Christian with disabilities communicates with a parent, you should ask the parent to give a demonstration.
- Talking About the People We Know with a Disability. Point out that we all live, shop, drive and work beside a person with a disability at some point in our life.
- Highlighting Famous People. Identify famous people with disabilities and highlight their contributions to society not as a source of inspiration but as an important to human growth.
- Giving Disability Awareness Lessons
. Provide an opportunity for Christians to become more understanding of people with disabilities by giving disability awareness lessons.
- Making A Positive Church Community. Establish and maintain a positive church community throughout the entire year. Encourage respect for one another, the use of appropriate language, and proactive social skills.
It will also be important to remind the community that discretion should be used when discussing the needs of Christians with disabilities with others. A conversation with the Christian prior to any of the above strategies can determine how comfortable the Christian is with sharing information about his or her disabilities. The sharing of information is not meant to put the Christian with disabilities “exposed”, but help others understand what the Christian needs in order to participate and participate well in a place of worship.
Ste-Thérèse Chapel: Canada
Contributed by Chantal Brien
To document the results of a review of the availability of accessibility accommodations at the Ste-Thérèse Chapel.
Ste-Thérèse Chapel is part of the Roman Catholic Military Ordinariate in Canada. The Parish is located on Canadian Forces Base Bagotville and shares a facility with the local Protestant community. The bulk of the community is made up of military members and their families, although civilian community members are welcome to, and do, attend. In general, the community is highly transient and attendees vary week to week with deployments and other military duties resulting in members being away unexpectedly. As a result, the community relies on everyone to welcome newcomers instead of having scheduled ushers.
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Main Entry – Driveway|
|Result||While there is a separate driveway to a properly constructed ramp, there is minimal signage to indicate how newcomers who use mobility aids should access the driveway and ramp.|
|Comment||Given that part of the access is unidirectional for vehicle traffic, this could be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the parish and make them feel unwelcome.|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Main Entry – Parking|
|Result||While there is vehicle access to the ramp to the building, the parking lot is down a hill|
|Comment||This could present an obstacle to a person who uses a mobility aid who wishes to drive independently to mass. Additional parking should be added during the upcoming renovation.|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Seating|
|Result||There are limited options for seating for people who use wheelchairs|
|Comment||Increasing the number of places where people who use wheelchairs could sit would allow them the same choice as other parishioners and allow them to participate fully|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Confession|
|Result||The space where the priest offers Reconciliation is often up a curved set of stairs. With no elevator or chair lift, this presents a barrier to access to anyone who uses a mobility aid|
|Comment||When completed, the planned building expansion project should make the office spaces, and consequently confession, more accessible|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Bathroom|
|Result||The washroom has been designed to meet modern accessibility standards and is spacious enough to allow a power chair to turn|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Parish Hall|
|Result||While the space itself has been designed to allow people who use wheelchairs to move about freely, the doors are heavy and don’t have buttons to open them. Additionally, there is a lip that could impede access for someone with a wheelchair or rollator|
|Comment||Retrofit of wheelchair buttons should be addressed during upcoming renovations|
|Evaluation Point||Wheelchair Access – Sacristy|
|Result||There are stairs that prevent people using wheelchairs or other mobility aids from accessing this area|
|Comment||When completed, the planned building expansion project should make the sacristy more accessible|
|Evaluation Point||Assistive Listening Devices – Nave|
|Result||There is a sound system that is consistently used during mass that would allow people who are Deaf/deaf or hard of hearing to use assistive devices.|
|Comment||According to Veteran’s Affairs Canada, hearing loss is either the first or second most common disability in all age categories of veterans. Given the population served by this parish, this is a critical accommodation to maintain. While physical infrastructure is in place, there are weeks where this system cannot be fully used by those present due to lack of knowledge.|
|Evaluation Point||Assistive Listening Devices – Parish Hall|
|Result||There is not a sound system for the parish hall|
|Comment||Given how common hearing loss is within the community, this is a significant issue. Additionally, since this is where children’s programs are conducted, this may present a barrier to inclusion for children who wish to participate in religious instruction.|
|Evaluation Point||Large Print Texts|
|Result||There are large print texts available, but as this is a shared space, materials used by the Catholic community must be put away between masses. If the people setting up each Sunday don’t know that these exist, they won’t be sought out and placed within reach by the community|
|Comment||This could be improved by developing and making available a setup checklist or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)|
|Evaluation Point||Text to Speech Programs|
|Result||Due to the transient nature of the community, an electronic bulletin board is used to communicate changes and announcements from week to week. Many of the announcements are created as text overlaid on an image and then published as an image. This process could render the information inaccessible to anyone using text to speech technology. (e.i. Screen readers)|
|Comment||This could be improved by developing and making available a standardized procedure that ensures that all announcements are formatted to be accessible to persons using text to speech technology|
|Evaluation Point||Sensory Barriers – Scents|
|Result||While it is possible to accommodate people who are sensitive to strong scents, or who experience breathing difficulties when exposed to incense, the knowledge of how to implement this accommodation is not common to all who attend the parish|
|Comment||This barrier to access to be ameliorated by educating the parish|
|Evaluation Point||Sensory Barriers – Reduced Stimulus|
|Result||While it is possible to accommodate people who tolerate bright lights and loud noises poorly, not everyone knows that the space is available|
|Comment||This barrier to access to be ameliorated by educating the parish|
|Evaluation Point||Ride Share Program|
|Result||The community is very supportive of assisting with transport arrangements and is used to offering carpooling to injured parishioners. That said, this is arranged on an ad hoc basis and a prospective member of the community has no way of knowing that this support exists|
|Comment||This barrier could be removed by making mention of the rideshare program on the parish website|
Broadly speaking, the barriers to full access at Ste-Thérèse Chapel fall into two general categories:
- Barriers for which an accommodation already exists but that may not be consistently available due to knowledge deficits; and
- Architectural and structural barriers, many of which should be resolved during planned renovations.
As there is currently a plan to undertake renovations to better allow the physical space to accommodate persons with disabilities, the next area of focus should be training and procedures to address knowledge barriers. Fixing these will allow Ste-Thérèse Chapel to improve access to everyone who might wish to join the parish.
St Benedict’s Parish, Ealing Abbey: London, UK
Contributed by Daniel Ferguson
We face a challenging time in society where, as Cristina Gangemi says, “the disabled person’s life has never been more in danger.” She says, [Society] “is seeking to develop the perfect human person.” This renders the life of the disabled as something mechanistic. Oftentimes the response of many in Society is to see those with disabilities as weaker and their lives of less value. This has resulted in the disabled person’s life is at risk of abortion in the womb. In the UK, the only factor allowing parents to get a full-term abortion at 40 weeks gestation is for reasons of fatal disability. The paradox is that disabled people are protected by legislation that deems them “an equal and valued human being.”
Our Church teaching stands opposed to this. In fact, our stance is juxtaposed. We see all life as a gift and our protection of all stems from the equal dignity given to every individual by God. St Paul’s words pierce the misconception of Society when he says “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Corinthians 12:22). People with disabilities are often cut off from the Society’s body but in Christ’s body “they are indispensable.” We see in Jesus the reaching out to the marginalized and weak in order to call all back to love, back to himself, and to full participation in his life. Jesus shows us that the seemingly weaker members of society actually have a huge amount to teach us. We come to learn more from them than they from us.
According to Canon Law, there is a genuine equality of dignity among all of Christ’s faithful. This means that all people, in whatever capacity they are able to participate, build up the Body of Christ. (Code of Canon Law, 208).
In our English context, we take guidance from the pastoral document produced by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales called Valuing Difference. This document provides practical advice for promoting measures that allow the full participation of every individual. The document reminds us that we are all created in the image of God, with our own particular gifts. Our task, as members of the Church, is to translate Christ’s clear message of inclusion into practical inclusion, so that the contribution of each member is respected and nurtured. “Active participation needs to be accessible to all.” (page 3), because, “Part of the body of Christ is missing when any individual is excluded from Church life.” (Part 2, p.9).
Aim of Seminar Paper
Society often sees no or little value in the weakest. The Church’s teaching is clear on the dignity rendered to all by God. However, the Church faces the practical challenge of how best to serve those with disabilities. We must come to a point where we see disabled people with the eyes of God. It is God’s paradox that the physically weakest amongst us our oftentimes the strongest spiritually. The physically weak have much to teach us. We must be rooted in the conviction that our brothers and sisters with learning disabilities are indispensable parts of Christ’s Body. This conviction must bear fruit in practical tools to help the members of our communities who seem weaker to participate fully. They should have their rightful place in the very heart of the Church.
In this seminar, I will focus on the task of establishing procedures for welcoming new members, including members with disabilities. I will be looking to develop an overarching training resource for key Parishioners that will transform the way our Parish sees newcomers to our community.
About our Parish
Overall Parish Goal
Bring about full participation of people with disabilities in the life of the Church and the full participation of the Church in the lives of people with disabilities
- Form a team of people from different areas of Parish life. Including at least one current Parishioner with a disability
- Brainstorm ideas of how to reach all Parishioners in order to welcome and acquire their needs and desires (as not all disabilities are visible to others)
- Put in the place the practical means of reaching out to new members of the community to acquire their views
- Form a plan that is shaped by the feedback and not by any preconceived notions of what is required
We want our Church to:
- Acknowledge the person as a whole (Spiritually, Physically, Emotionally, Socially, Intellectually).
- Have a response to people in need that is one of love and mercy.
- Have this response come not from feeling sorry for individuals but from recognizing their participation in the body of Christ.
- See all people with the eyes of Christ.
- Create an atmosphere that is accessible and welcoming to all so everyone feels like they belong.
- Be a missional Church that engages with persons with disabilities and a missional Church who is engaged by people with disabilities.
- Put an end to isolation and disconnectedness of persons with disabilities and their families.
- Nurture the spiritual lives of people with disabilities.
- Encourage the gifts of people with disabilities so they can serve God fully and by extension serve the people around them (as the disabled people have their missionary calling too).
Religious Community: Rome, Italy
Contributed by Sr. Gemma Tenedero Benavidez
The usual barrier of inclusion for disabilities is people tend to look at their physical defects rather than their capacity to do things. Some people easily look at others by their appearances. I believe everyone is born with innate talents and along the way of life, we discover our skills regardless of our state of life. However In Discovering one’s talents and skills can be quite difficult. For me, it took many years to find out that I can play musical instruments. It was only inside the convent I discovered my talents and skills. More so helping others to find their talents and skills can be extremely difficult to figure out. However, some people discover their talents at a very early age while others remain hidden and never discovered thus those persons have no opportunity to find his talent and no one helps them or encourages them. So they need others for guidance to help them to find out their skills and talents. In my contribution, I chose the last activity “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.”
Guide for Discovering their skills and talents such as:
- The community should always give time to follow and meet the newest members of the group to establish a good relationship and get to know them. Also to discover what is the good points of the person and also their weakness.
- The community should be aware of their likes and dislikes. Be mindful always the activity where they enjoy most. In this area of their life, we can help them identify their capability rather than their disability.
- The community should ask during the meeting who are interested in some particular task. Try to delegate them in some areas of responsibility. For example to learn musical instruments or doing art etc. Or ask who wants to sing the responsorial psalms or who wants to be a lector or commentator. Explaining to them that everyone is encouraged to participate for God’s glory. No one is exempted in spite of their disabilities.
- The community should always affirm them. Little things that they do affirm them. When they fail, encourage them. Explaining to them that these great things in the eyes of God. The purity of intention is always important never mind if they commit a mistake.
- The community will try to challenge them. Be creative. For example singing contest. However, remind them that the competition is just for recreation not to compete with one another. Then give them a reward who is the best as well the other contestants for their participation.
- Always nurture their spiritual life. Explaining to them that it is essential to share their talents and skills because this is a part of their mission here on earth to make others happy and also for the enrichment of their soul as well as their contribution to the society. Through this others get inspired to them in spite of their disabilities.
Upon working on this paper, I came to realize and asked questions, why our congregation did not give the opportunity to reach out to people with disabilities? I know that every religious institution has its own charism. Like we Dominican, most of our apostolates are in the school, but I think this an opportunity to reach out to people with disabilities. This is a challenge for our congregation now a day. I know there are some religious institutions who also taking care of people with disabilities. Thanks for their dedication to the apostolate.
Note: My experience of implementing or planning the activity in my community was extremely difficult. Why? As I have shared before during the conference, I have never encountered people with disabilities. I feel guilty and ashamed of myself. It’s sad I myself a religious member of a congregation should be the first one to help them and support them. But now where I am? Just staying inside the four walls of the convent. Honestly, it was really hard for me to finish this assignment because my contribution was not realistic it was just a matter of imagination. So it was difficult to figure out things which are not real. Thank you for this seminar that awakening my mind. I hope someday in God’s time our congregation will open this kind of apostolate not only concentrating in school. Who knows? I believed that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps now I don’t understand why I enrolled in this subject.
Sacred Heart Catholic Parish: Waltham, MA United States
Contributed by Sr. Mira Taurannang
Establish procedures for welcoming new members, including members with disabilities
Discuss your experience implementing or planning the activity in your community
I was impressed with the positive response I received from my parish community when I asked whether they have their/any procedures in place for welcoming new members, including members with disabilities. According to my parish pastor, Rev. Father Dennis Wheatley OFM, the parish has always been welcoming to anyone regardless of where they come from, their age or their abilities. He put extra emphasis on parish policies especially when it comes to people with disabilities. The Parish has different groups that are active in the life of the parish like the Knights of Columbus and St. Claire’s prayer group to name some. The new members are encouraged to join these groups if they want to – it is up to the new members to take part in the activities of the parish. The parish has different events/activities that welcomed every parishioner to take part/join. At the Parish church, there are priority seats reserved at (front rows) for people with wheelchairs, ramps at the parish hall and church. Lastly, there are rails for elderly people or for those who wished to use rails.
Listening to Father’s sharing on the life of the parish, I get the impression that the five procedures I proposed (see the infographic) have already been put into place in all areas of the life of the parish. The first step I suggest is to “Establish a welcoming committee,” this committee consists of few designated parishioners who are responsible for taking care and making sure that the new members, including members with disabilities, are welcomed and included into the faith community. This welcoming committee works very closely with the parish pastor. The new members are encouraged to fill in a form that is available at the parish office for their information, contacts, etc.
The second and third steps would be a challenge to carry out since it really needs a lot of attention, patience and energy, though it would not be a barrier. “Listen/pay attention to the needs of new members, including members with disabilities” and “Discover new members’ talents and gifts.” Listening is really a gift to have and it takes a while to master it. It demands a person to fully engage in conversation or dialogue not only with a listening ear rather, a listening heart. However, the parish has assigned some people who have expertise in helping young adults or even families who have problems. Individuals or families can be free to share in this space knowing that someone is willing to listen to them with a compassionate heart without judgement.
“Include children with disabilities in CCD Classes and prayers groups” is the fourth step, which emphasizes on Catechesis. The parish already has a special program in place to answer to the needs of children/adults with disabilities. For example; the CCD Classes – once a month, the Parish has what it called an “autistic teaching mass” formed especially for autistic children to teach them about the symbols used during the mass. These children also have special large print hymn books and other materials accessible for their needs.
Lastly, the fifth step, which is really about, “getting involved, participation and contribution,” in the life of the parish/faith community. This is the ultimate goal of the whole project of including new people into our places of worship. The new members first, should feel the sense of being welcomed and accepted into the faith/parish community. If only the needs are met in the first four steps that the fifth step can take root in the life of the new members, including members with disabilities. Each member of a faith community has a part to play. We are always challenged to open wide our doors to welcome new members and people who are different from us.
First and most importantly, a faith community should be open to the new members, including members with disabilities with understanding and without judgment. Barriers could be hindrances to this openness. However, each community member is challenged to step up and change his/her attitude towards people with disabilities. The needs of individuals vary according to their disability(ies), therefore, there should be programs put in place to cater to the needs of the new members, especially members with disabilities. The faith community will need to be prepared to individualize programs to meet the needs of an individual, teach the beliefs/faith in a language that they understand, for example; a braille or large print books for the visually impaired, and to promote participation within the congregation. These are some areas that I plan to implement into the parish/faith community programs. There is a lot to be done in regards to people with disabilities; however, each parish/faith community needs to play its role at every level, locally, nationally and internationally in promoting inclusiveness and accessibility. Therefore, an inclusive community of faith requires commitment and participation of the full community.
- Who are People with Disabilities?
- What are Barriers?
- Building Relationships with People with Disabilities
- Step 1: Form an Inclusion Committee
- Step 2: Identify Barriers
- Step 3: Make a Plan
- 1- Strategies for Shifting Attitudes & Promoting 18 Active Participation
- 2- Strategies for Improving Communications
- 3-Strategies for Making Buildings and Facilities Accessible
- 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!
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.
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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
To start making your faith community more accessible follow these three steps:
- Form an Inclusion Committee
- Identify barriers
- 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 (http://opendoors.idrc.ocadu.ca/category/welcoming-communities) 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 (https://www.facebook.com/OurDoorsAreOpen/).
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.
Your faith community is most likely a welcoming one and wants to be inclusive of people with disabilities and of other individuals who may feel under-represented. You may already do things to make people with disabilities feel at home in your community. That said, your community may also unwittingly exclude people with disabilities, because many traditions and environments have been designed without considering the needs of people with disabilities. In the past, this exclusion was accepted by most and not questioned. Today, however, we know better but can still be exclusive because we have not fully integrated inclusive thinking into the design of our traditions, activities, and spaces.
1- Strategies for Shifting Attitudes & Promoting Active Participation
You can begin by actively questioning and thinking about welcoming behaviour:
- How do you demonstrate openness at the core of your faith community?
- What are your current beliefs about welcoming?
- Who is not represented or unable to participate?
Welcoming goes beyond the invitation, and includes making sure that you find out about the needs of individuals with disabilities to participate and then to engage in a way that meets these needs.
Just Ask. Just Listen.
Inclusive thinking means changing habits and behaviours. Your community may need to consciously bring inclusive thinking into all activities before these inclusive habits are developed. Getting to know what you need to think about to be inclusive can be easier than you expect. We recommend as a first strategy a very simple approach:
Just ask. Just listen
Ask people with disabilities, “How can we be more welcoming? How can we be more inclusive?” Listening carefully to their response can help create a shift in how you think about inclusion. Sometimes we don’t ask because we feel unsure of how to interact with someone with a disability and do not want to be offensive.
Interacting with People with Disabilities
People with disabilities want to participate as volunteers in activities and on committees at places of worship. Here are some tips to make it happen.
Check the resource section for tips on interacting with people with disabilities, or follow this link to a chapter from Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design (http://uiaccess.com/accessucd/interact.html).
Accessibility does not equal inclusion. To be included in a community means to have opportunities to actively participate and make contributions to the community.
Welcome People into Active Participation
Welcoming also means enabling participation in all aspects of your community so that individuals know that they are able to engage.
Begin by advertising that you are looking for candidates of all abilities in media/locations (virtual and physical) that are frequented by people with disabilities in your community.
- Use diverse imagery within your advertising and media materials, such as those at photoability.net (a for-fee database of stock photos of people with disabilities) or at other image houses online.
- Advertise! Make it known that you have flexible ways to lead and volunteer for the community (e.g., online from home, volunteer with a buddy or partner, single task volunteering, and regularly scheduled volunteering).
Set Up Inclusive Training and Meetings
- Take advantage of the flexibility of electronic text (it is easily read aloud by a screen reader, enlarged, converted to Braille, adjusted for colour and contrast, as well as shared) and provide training materials and information in accessible digital formats.
- Take advantage of freely available and inexpensive audio and video conferencing solutions to enable remote participation in training activities, meetings, and volunteer tasks.
- Use plain language in training materials.
Create Tasks in an Inclusive Manner
- Have flexible tasks so that they can be tailored to fit different people’s skills and be shared. For example, an individual who is blind could teach a skill to a group of children with the help of a sighted person to manage physical supervision.
- Consider what tasks or parts of tasks can be carried out from their homes.
- Divide tasks into smaller sub-tasks/requirements so that you can better match each individual to available tasks.
Maintaining Participation of People with Disabilities in Your Community
- Seek to have people with disabilities represented at all levels of your community. Who is on your board? Who is volunteering on the front line?
- Develop policies and procedures that support inclusion, diversity, and accessibility through the inclusion committee.
- Set continual goals for inclusion and evaluate success of meeting inclusion goals and supporting diversity.
- Find and fix barriers to participation of people with disabilities.
- Have all volunteers complete an exit interview to learn more about the volunteer experience.
- Ask potential leaders and volunteers what they would like to do for your community organization, the skills they would like to put to use, and what their goals are in working with you.
- Focus on what people are able to do and maximize these opportunities by reassigning or redesigning tasks or parts of tasks that have barriers or are more difficult to accomplish.
- Allow people to identify what they are good at and what they would like to do, rather than create a prescriptive role. This will create an opportunity for the person with a disability to tell you how they would best fit into the organization.
- When possible, create roles with flexible timelines or opportunities to participate remotely or with a support worker. Make the availability of these flexible roles known to volunteers.
- Pay attention to travel and time constraints so someone who struggles to get around or who has to manage other commitments (such as booking attendants or medical appointments) will be able to participate in your community.
Have You Tried These Things?
- Set aside a time to discuss welcoming at a regular meeting.
- Discuss who the most welcoming people are in your community and what they do.
- Listen to the voices and needs of people with disabilities in your community.
- Identify and remove barriers to being welcoming and participation.
- Offer opportunities for people to volunteer in groups or pairs.
- Offer flexible time commitments and/or partnering arrangements that will enable individuals with episodic disabilities to volunteer.
- Offer transportation (e.g., carpool or shuttle) for those who do not drive.
- Ask people what you can do to support their commitment.
- Provide access to refreshments, if applicable.
- Provide an accessible space to secure belongings.
- Ask people with disabilities to volunteer and lead in the different areas of your community.
- We as a community understand the concept of welcoming.
- We see the ways that all of us have a level of responsibility in ensuring accessibility.
- We have established an Inclusion Committee.
- We have included people with disabilities in committees, as well as in praying, singing, dancing, music, speaking, and preaching in worship services.
- We have provided support and resources for people with disabilities to actively participate in the community.
- The tasks needed to be completed are tailored to each person’s abilities and areas of interest.
- We set up and organize inclusive training workshops.
- We have reached out and asked how to remove barriers to inclusion, and devised creative solutions.
- We now have more items that are checked “yes” under Barriers of Attitudes on the Brief Accessibility Checklist.
2- Strategies for Improving Communications
Communication is a process of providing, sending, receiving, and understanding information. A person’s disability may affect the way that the person expresses, receives, or processes communication.
Do not make assumptions based on a person’s disability. What may be a very effective way of providing information for one person with a disability may not be for another. People with the same type of disability may communicate in different ways because of diverse skills or resources. For example, only a small percentage of people who are blind use Braille. Where possible, it is helpful to ask the person directly how to communicate with them.
How Can We Create Accessible Communication Material?
- Make sure all written and spoken materials used in worship practices, programs/activities, and advertisements are in plain language. Offer other formats (e.g., large print, audio, digital on a website, and Braille).
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content (e.g., captions for pictures).
- Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia (e.g., audio description of pictures and videos).
- Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, such as screen readers for blind and low vision users, without losing meaning.
- Use different technology to spread your message in order to reach a wide variety of people across age and ability groups. Reach out through mobile, social media, and computer applications. Make all functionality available from a keyboard, if online.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content.
- Give users enough time to read and use content.
- Do not use content that causes seizures (anything that flashes more than three times in any one-second period).
- Help users find what they are looking for.
- Make text readable and understandable. Use language that is to the point and gets your message across in the simplest way possible.
Tips for Creating Accessible Communication Materials
- When you create new information, think about what might help someone who has vision loss, hearing loss, or a learning disability understand it.
- For existing information, think about making it available in an accessible format; for example, using large print for someone with vision loss.
- Hire people with disabilities to create content for your community.
- Use clear fonts and contrasting colours for any documents you hand out or display.
- Incorporate various forms of visual, text, and audio elements into communication so that people can understand your message through the medium they feel most understandable.
- Offer to provide captioning and sign language interpretation to accommodate more members.
Have You Tried These Things?
- Provide ample notice of events to allow people to arrange for disability accommodations.
- Include an inclusion statement on all advertising.
- Collect information about disability accommodation needs through registration forms.
- Include contact information for disability accommodation requests in your advertising.
- Follow up on accommodation requests.
- Include international accessibility symbols in your advertising to indicate disability accommodations you can offer.
- Advertise in different formats for people with diverse ranges of ability, including (but not limited to) audio-recording, Braille, and/or web-based formats.
- In your meetings and services offer materials in large-print and digital formats (some members bring their tablets to your services).
- We offer information in different formats as needed in order to ensure that our message reaches people with a variety of disabilities.
- We create content with a diverse audience in mind.
- We have extra hard copies printed.
- The audio/visual controls are adjustable.
- We offer verbal descriptions of visual content.
- We are working on captioning some videos.
- We ensure that our message is delivered in a clear and understandable manner.
- We have provided an outlet for accessibility feedback after presentations in order to further improve.
- We mix up the ways we deliver our message to attract and engage all people in the community.
- We now have more items that are checked “yes” under Barriers of Communication on the Brief Accessibility Checklist.
3- Strategies for Making Buildings and Facilities Accessible
In both urban centres and rural communities, worship spaces act as important places for outreach, faith-based programming, and social and cultural activities. This makes worship spaces ideal for forming connections and socializing for people with disabilities. Inclusive design can be implemented in order to ensure the possibility for people with disabilities to make the most of their worship experiences.
Tips for Improving Access to Worship Spaces
The understanding of physical accessibility in Ontario faith communities needs to be looked at in a different way. Physical accessibility is often the most addressed aspect of the needs of the disability community, and yet many communities are still not fully accommodating. Physical accessibility does not end with ramps for wheelchair users. Access needs to include elements, such as
- spacious entryways
- clear signs to guide people through buildings
- unscented spaces
- adjustable lighting
- audio and visual aids
- inclusive seating (e.g. chairs available where they are not normally used, pews being shortened in various places so space for people using wheelchairs and strollers is available throughout the place of worship, not in a single area)
Tips for Accessible Buildings and Environments
- Consider how people are going to arrive at your space.
- Consider offering diverse transportation options to members with disabilities.
- Provide information about accessible parking.
- Provide information about wheelchair access.
- Check your outdoor and indoor pathways to be sure that they are free of barriers.
- If you have elevators, try to make them fully inclusive for diverse members.
- Provide inclusive, clear, high-contrast signage.
- Check the acoustics. It is important to provide minimal echo.
- Indicate the location of accessible bathrooms.
- Be sure that all electrical cables and cords are securely covered for safe crossover.
- Provide a quiet area with dim lighting.
Have You Tried These Things?
- Set up the space to be generous to users of wheelchairs and scooters.
- Provide accessible seating areas in the front, middle, and back.
- Reserve seating for people with disabilities and their companions to sit together.
- Included adjustable lighting in your worship space.
- Promote a fragrance‐free environment.
- We recognize the way physical space can support or remove a person’s feeling of welcome.
- We have considered the setup of the room and how people with disabilities will interact with the environment.
- Everybody in our community knows that by law, service animals are welcome in all public spaces, with few exceptions (e.g., food preparation areas), and can be dogs or other animals.
- We provided guidance to congregants on not interacting (e.g. distracting, petting, etc.) with service animals who are working (e.g., wearing a harness).
- We have an indoor or outdoor relief area for service animals and provide them with a water bowl.
- We accommodate transportation when possible (e.g., arrange carpool).
- We completed the accessibility checklist as a launching point into promoting a culture of accessibility.
- We have used and promoted technology and apps to report back on how well we are doing in terms of inclusion and accessibility.
- We now have more items that are checked “yes” under Architectural Barriers on the Brief Accessibility Checklist.
Inclusive thinking is an ongoing process that means learning new habits and behaviours.
Step 1: Have a Plan for Welcoming New Community Members
Prepare your welcome committee members on how to interact with people with disabilities. Let the newcomer know that inclusion and accessibility is a priority in your community. Be clear about how any needs for an accessibility accommodation can be communicated. If people with disabilities can share perspectives on worship spaces, committee service, community engagement, and hospitality with friends, then faith communities can offer dynamic proof of the diversity that all of our traditions strive to celebrate.
Step 2: Reach Out to People Who Are Not Currently Included in Your Community
As mentioned earlier, it is possible that some may have had negative experiences from previous attempts to join a faith community. It is important for you to spread the word about all the accessible and inclusive features your community has to offer. Use your current communication channels and find new ones such as posting on accessibility mapping applications like wheelmap.org/en, AXSmap. com or AccessNow.me, asking advocacy groups to tell their members about you and have your community members share with their social networks. More importantly, get the attention of people with disabilities. Look at section 2- Strategies for Improving Communications (p. 16) in this guide for more information.
Step 3: Build Relationships with People with Disabilities
Remember, not everyone will come to your community fully ready to tell you about their disabilities or their accessibility needs. In fact, many may try to hide their disabilities or avoid entering the community completely. For people to open up, you must first build trust and a relationship.
- Ask and Listen. Still not sure if you are providing enough? Just ask: “How can I/we help?” Then listen. You don’t need to have all the solutions. Odds are that you probably will never have solutions that would work for everyone. By directly asking people, you can show your support and your care while making more people feel welcome.
- Ask how a new member would like to participate in the community. Ask what they would need to fully participate in your community. This may be a good practice for all existing and new members of your community.
Progress Checklist: How much have you progressed?
- We can identify and successfully welcome new members with disabilities.
- We ensure that new members feel a part of the community and go out of our way to include them.
- We have tried to incorporate person-centred planning in our community.
- We understand the different approaches of welcoming people of a variety of disabilities with respect.