Our Doors are Open Guide: Implementation Examples

Getting Down to Work

Anglican Parish: Trinidad & Tobago

Contributed by Ashton Gomez


In the month of September 2019, the Social outreach committee of the parish of St. Michael and All Angels, embarked on a project to transport the sick and homebound to and from Church on weekends as well as to other places, such as the Supermarket or Doctor’s office, once per week. The person in charge of this venture is Ms. Pearl Brown, a policy document was created as to the role and responsibility of the drivers as well as a code of conduct to adhere too. Respecting the client is of paramount importance.

It was not too long into us getting into this project that we recognized that we needed to train the volunteers on how to interact not only with the sick and homebound but also with their caregivers and other family members. Out of seven (7) initial volunteers, only three (3) have remained on board with this project.

Having engaged in this course of study there are a few things that we must take into consideration as we continue to provide this service.

  • We must be able to have our volunteers clean their vehicles with scent-free disinfectants as this may be a trigger for some individuals
  • Volunteers must be trained on how to properly assist individuals that need assistance getting in and out of the vehicle to avoid causing injuries to the client or even to themselves.
  • Use language that is simple but not condescending. We would not want anyone to feel as though they don’t fit in. 
  • Engage those who would make use of the service, to indicate to us how we may be able to improve upon the service that is being offered. 
  • Avoid having to go to the gas station while a client is in the vehicle to avoid the possibility of increased anxiety or placing undue stress on anyone from either smell, excessive noise, or being left alone.
  • Getting permission to approach and touch an individual so that the respect for their personal space can be maintained.

While we have begun this service with the sick and homebound in mind, the demand has grown to those that do have some kind of disability. What we have encountered are a lot of parishioners that have lost mobility. We are currently trying to make our worship space one where wheelchairs can be used in place of pews. 


The Social Outreach committee was not of the view that we were engaged in a project of assisting the differently-abled. The idea was one of being compassionate but I have seen that not having the right language or skill can make one feel less of a human. We will be using this platform also to engage others as a teaching aid that the differently-abled whether born that way, through an accident of because of time, we are all in need of assistance at certain times. Ms. Pearl Brown and her small but very active team are in the process of modifying the policy document and code of conduct where that may be needed.

Catholic Parish Church: Mzuzu Catholic. Malawi

Contributed by Fr. Austin Ndowera


Accessibility implies making public places accessible to every individual, irrespective of his or her disability or special need, ensuring the integration of the wheelchair user into the society and thereby granting them the capability of participating in activities of daily living and ensuring equality in daily life. Our Parish has 32 out-stations (Church Buildings) and they were all assessed. Out of a total of 32 buildings assessed, only one of the buildings has access to the entrances with people using wheelchairs. The results of this study show that our church buildings in our parish are not wheelchair accessible. An important observation made during this study was that people have no idea of what it means to improve accessibility as buildings are being constructed or renovated without thinking of the people with disabilities. There are no laid down guidelines as to how to make the buildings accessible for wheelchair users. This is what we plan to do in our parish.

What we will do

  1. We will develop a parish building code using the principles of universal design to ensure all our church buildings are accessible to all persons.
  2. We will need to make awareness-raising around issues on removing and breaking physical barriers in society and the provision of an accessible physical environment for every member of our church and society at large. This shall be the responsibility of every Christian in the parish.
  3. We are forming the “Parish Inclusive Committee” which shall team up with other parish committees like Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM) responsible for the dissemination of information to reach a large proportion of the populace in our parish.
  4. There shall be a liaison between the end-users, the People with Disabilities and various professionals (politicians, engineers, lawyers, architects, physiotherapists, disability management practitioners and occupational therapists) during the development of a framework for the construction of our church buildings in order to make them accessible to wheelchair users in our Parish. This is because People with Disabilities know best the barriers they face and therefore will make meaningful contributions to the framework.
  5. The Parish Committee for People With Disabilities that will have an oversight responsibility on disability issues in our parish shall liaise with the association of architects and contractors on the need and how to design and construct accessible church buildings in our Parish.
  6. There will be the need to set up a regulatory body that will have an oversight responsibility of all church buildings constructed in our Parish to make sure they are wheelchair accessible before sanction or approval is given for final construction.
  7. More attention will be paid in providing accessibility links during construction and renovation of church buildings across the parish.


An important observation will be made that there is an intention to improve accessibility when church buildings are being constructed or renovated. This will show how accessible church buildings should be to wheelchair users because the parish follows a country’s Disability Law which lacks the requisite guidelines (legislative instrument and building codes) on how to make public buildings accessible to all.

There is a need for the Malawian government to develop building codes and guidelines using universal design principles to ensure all public buildings are wheelchair accessible. This can be achieved by liaison between wheelchair users and various professionals (disability management practitioners, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, engineers and architects).

It is important to increase the level of wheelchair accessibility to public buildings; this will facilitate independence, integration and reintegration of wheelchair users into the society. It will also ensure equity for all and thereby contribute to the achievement of the sustainable development goals in our country Malawi.

The development of every nation evolves with the housing of its agencies, organizations and institutions to serve the general public. A building not accessible by persons with physical disability means they have been excluded as far as usage of the facility is concerned. In almost all our churches here, major obstacles continue to hamper the development of people with disabilities, thus preventing them from exercising their rights and freedom, making it especially difficult for them to participate fully in the activities of our church community.

Ste-Thérèse Chapel: Canada

Contributed by Chantal Brien

Promote a fragrance-free environment

After reflecting on the readings for this week, one of my observations was that not everyone is aware of why a fragrance-free environment falls within the scope of accessibility and inclusion. Although I am not in a position to implement such a program at the moment, I thought that helping people understand why such a program is necessary would be key for gaining cooperation. Accordingly, I have created a brochure as an educational aid to promote a new program. 

Poster to promote fragrance free zone with 3 columns. Column 1: policy. Effective Immediately, parishioners are asked to avoid the use of strongly scented products. We have also added fragrance free seating marked with the sign above. Column 2: Thank you for your cooperation. With your help, we can make our parish a welcoming place for everyone! If there is something preventing you from fully participating in our community please bring it to the attention of our inclusion committee! Column 3: Why Scent Reduction Matters. We want everyone to feel welcome. You can help by not wearing strongly scented products. Drawing of a sad face smelling strongly scented products.
Second part of the poster with 2 columns. 
Column 1: Fragrance don't smell beautiful to everyone! Your favourite scent may cause someone else to feel sick. Symptoms can include: difficulty breathing, headaches, nausea, migraine, dizziness, difficulty concentrating; and coughing.
Column 2: Access is more than elevators! Not all disabilities are visible! 
Drawing of silhouettes holding hands and the extremes one with wheelchair the other someone with a service dog all in different colours.
Title: Who is affected by scents? 
Subtitle: We want all of the groups below to feel welcome!
People with certain medical condition can be strongly affected by scents.
Asthma, Autism Spectrum, Pregnancy, Post-traumatic stress disorder, chemical sensitivities, Migraines.

I had designed the images to be accessible to people using screen readers or other adaptive technology, but I can’t upload that version to the GoogleDrive document.

St Benedict’s Parish, Ealing Abbey: London, UK

Contributed by Daniel Ferguson

Strategies for Shifting Attitudes & Promoting Active Participation

The Parish community already does a huge amount to welcome all newcomers to the Parish. However, there is more that can be done. We are drawing consideration to the sort of welcoming environment we create for all. In our anonymous online questionnaire, we have asked whether or not people feel the Parish demonstrates a welcoming and inclusive attitude. 

Providing for the physical needs of people with disabilities is one aspect but we must go above and beyond. Our Parish requires a shift or growth in overall vision so that inclusive thinking and habits become natural and effortless. We do not want people to consider an inclusive attitude as an add on.

Sometimes there can be a tendency to assume we know what people need, especially those with disabilities. This assumption can lead to overcomplicating the solution or providing something that is not needed. Instead, and thankfully much easier, we should dialogue with people to see what their needs are. This goes for everyone in the Parish. We should be entering into dialogue with people and allowing people to express their needs in a whole range of topics. We should listen closely to what people are expressing as their needs. 

Welcoming people is one part of the overall aim of enabling active participation in the life of the Parish. Part of this is making it known in the Parish that we welcome ideas of how to help all people actively participate. We will begin to advertise flexible ways to lead and volunteer in the Parish. 

Simple changes can have a big impact – for example using plain language in all communication. We are exploring how the Parish can make use of technology to better communicate with Parishioners in general. This now includes consideration of how to make accessible all communications to a broad range of users. 

Over the past year, we have increased our number of Catechists by a large number. In doing so this has allowed us to make Catechetical opportunities available within the Church open to all. For example, having two Catechists working together in a group allows a person who is blind to Catechise when aided by another Catechist who manages physical supervision.

In the opening, encouraging and enabling a Catechist with poor vision to meet their potential, we saw the fruit of helping people with disabilities to actively participate. We will now endeavour to make all levels of Parish life open to people with disabilities. This means starting at the top with Parish Leadership. Perhaps the Parish Council or the Leadership team should be made inclusive to all with measures put in place to help all to be able to participate. Basically, putting things in place which help to reduce the number of disabilities that stop people from participating in the life of the Parish. Key to this is finding and fixing any barriers to participation – the Inclusion Committee is key to this.

Screenshot of the online survey.
Ealing Abbey - How are we doing? Survey. 
Question 1: Do you consider our church fully accessible to people with varieties of disabilities and special needs? 
Question 2: In what ways could our Church be more accessible?
Question 3: What has your welcome been like when coming to the Church?

Having avenues that allow parishioners to express their experience and desires are important. We have set up an online anonymous survey to capture Parishioners’ views. This will be rolled out soon. 

 As part of our survey, we will be asking all members to express what they could and would like to do for the community. Also, what they could and would be able to do if they had some help/encouragement to get there. What measures could enable them to carry out a service in the Parish? This allows space for people to express what they would like without it being threatening. Our desire is to focus on what people are able to do and attempt to maximize their opportunities. 

Have you tried these things?

  • Q1. There is a welcome committee and welcoming is discussed at the Parish Council Meeting regularly. However, there is little consideration of inclusive meeting.
  • Q2. We haven’t done this but it would provide us with an idea of what it means to be naturally welcoming.
  • Q3. We are beginning to do this with the Inclusion Committee. Allowing more opportunities for every Parishioner to express their needs and concerns is something we are looking at. Having a suggestions box and on the new Parishioners form having questions asking about inclusivity. 
  • Q4. We are trying to identify the barriers through the Inclusion Committee and by allowing other avenues for Parishioners to express their views.
  • Q5. The topic of how to ensure that all groups and activities in the Parish are open as much as possible to all has been discussed at the Inclusion Committee and the weekly Parish Team meeting.
  • Q6. This hasn’t been discussed yet but is something that can be considered first with the Inclusion Committee.
  • Q7. This is something that is being considered by the Inclusion Committee for Parishioners attending services. This is something that should be available to potential staff should the need arise.
  • Q8. Changing the culture of the Parish to consider inclusivity more will help there to be more public conversations about support for people.
  • Q9. This is not something we have tried. We have a Coffee Shop open 9-12 pm on a Sunday and they would be happy to provide refreshments if there was a pressing need. However, they are some distance from the Church. We will raise this topic at the Inclusion Committee.
  • Q10. This is not something that has been considered but we will raise it with the Parish Team.
  • Q11. We have started to think as a Parish about how we go about removing barriers to entry for leadership roles in the Parish. There is still some way to go but the conversation has begun and that’s a good start.

Progress Checklist

  • Point 1. The Parish is very welcoming to newcomers but can be more inclusive.
  • Point 2. On the whole, people are very good at keeping hallways and access points clear. 
  • Point 3. We have established one.
  • Point 4. We have encouraged individuals with disabilities to take on a role in Parish life. We are doing this as a Parish Team by actively inviting people to consider roles and by speaking in a general way about volunteering and serving in the life of the Parish.
  • Point 5. We have provided some and the Inclusion Committee is considering other resources. We are also inviting Parishioners to make it known what resources would help them.
  • Point 6. Tailoring tasks to each individual’s needs is something we need to do a better job.
  • Point 7. We haven’t set up inclusive training workshops as of yet but we have spoken to Catechists and leaders of the Children’s Liturgy about being mindful of inclusivity and welcoming. We will provide a workshop on this for key members of the Parish who can then pass on knowledge to others. 
  • Point 8. We have reached out through the Inclusion Committee and by changing the New Parishioners’ forms.
  • Point 9. Not yet but we are making progress.

Strategies for Improving Communications

People are unique and what works for one person may not prove effective for another. Thus it is important and helpful to ask the person directly what they find the most effective forms of communication. We are endeavouring to do this through a number of avenues. The online survey will gather responses from those capable of using technology. We also recognize the need for allowing physical forms and gathering information verbally.

One easy change in communications is the use of Plain language as much as possible. Other formats can be used and offered in a friendly way – e.g. “Did you know we offer large print, audio, digital, Braille versions?” Text alternatives are also being explored with the Inclusion Committee (e.g. captions for pictures, audio description).

Creating accessible communication materials – It is important to always consider who will be using the material that is created. 

Have You Tried These Things?

  • Q1. This is something that the Parish tends to do well.
  • Q2. We haven’t got an inclusion statement on all advertising. This is something that will be brought up with the Inclusion Committee.
  • Q3. We have added this to our New Parishioners forms and to all event registration forms.
  • Q4. We have included a Parish Team member’s contact information on a lot of advertising.
  • Q5. For events where people express a requirement/need we contact the individual to discuss accommodating this.
  • Q6. We have started to do this.
  • Q7. We have started to do this.
  • Q8. The topic of using technology for accessibility purposes will be discussed with the Inclusion Committee. At the moment using technology during services is not encouraged. 

Progress Checklist

  • Point 1. We offer different formats for our information as needed and we are considering other formats through the Inclusion Committee.
  • Point 2. We already consider who the audience will be when creating material.
  • Point 3. We provide printed copies of all our communication materials.
  • Point 4. Audio/visual controls are adjustable.
  • Point 5. At present we do not offer verbal descriptions of visual content.
  • Point 6. We don’t have any video content.
  • Point 7. We are attempting to streamline our information so that our message is direct, clear and understandable. 
  • Point 8. Feedback is invited after all events.
  • Point 9. We will be attempting to improve our website to make it a better communication tool. We will also be making use of social media in the New Year.
  • Point 10. We are making very good progress in this area.

Strategies for Making Building and Facilities Accessible

Our worship space should act as a place of out-reach and should facilitate our aim to be a missionary Church. Thus our worship spaces should be inclusive for all. This is something we are assessing through our surveys. 

One thing that has been noted to be considered with the Inclusion Committee is the use of clear signs that lead people through buildings.

Have You Tried These Things?

  • Q1. Our pews are fitted but there is ample space at the front of the Church for wheelchairs and scooters.
  • Q2. The spacing between pews is spacious and provides easy access for those with difficulty moving.
  • Q3. This is not done at present and will be raised at the next Inclusion Committee meeting.
  • Q4. This is not something which is offered at present.
  • Q5. This is not something which is offered at present.

Progress Checklist

  • Point 1. More can be done to engage people with disabilities to discover whether the physical space is welcoming or not.
  • Point 2. Again, more can be done to discover how the present set up affects people with disabilities. 
  • Point 3. This has not been promoted or made known to anyone in the congregation. This will be raised at the next Inclusion Committee Meeting.
  • Point 4. Again, this has not been promoted and will be raised with the Inclusion Committee.
  • Point 5. There is no such thing at present.
  • Point 6. No formal carpool is operated at present for the Sunday Services. An informal one operates on a Wednesday at the senior Mass.
  • Point 7. We completed the accessibility checklist and through the Inclusion Committee are raising awareness of Inclusion. 
  • Point 8. We have not used any technology but will research this and raise it with the Inclusion Committee. 
  • Point 9. We are moving in the right direction with some points from the Checklist ongoing. 


A lot of progress has been made in a short period of time but we are aware that creating an inclusive environment requires inclusion and accessibility to be a consideration at every step and decision. This is something that requires a change in culture. Changing the culture will allow this consideration to become natural and effortless.

Religious Community: Rome, Italy

Contributed by Sr. Gemma Tenedero Benavidez

Reserve seating for people with disabilities and their companions to sit together. 


When I was in the early stage of my formation in religious life, what we called novitiate period. In this stage of our religious life, we tried to develop our prayer life. We were taught that having a good ambiance, a comfortable position can affect our prayer. It is true that having an uncomfortable place, a position can affect our concentration on prayer. That is why we were required to relax before going to prayer. Before the prayer begins we make sure that we are relaxed in order to focus on the Lord and what the Holy Spirit revealing us.

While working in this seminar, I realized that as a person I need a good ambiance, comfortable seat etc. in prayer.  How much more for the person with a disability? I have Chosen the third activity to wok on. 


1. Contact the guardian – Ask the guardian for confirmation if they attend so that the community knows how many chairs to reserve more or less and also what chapel is going to use the big one or the small one.

2. Signage – The community will provide directions or put on the bulletin boards where people can find WC or pass going to the chapel, where to put their things safely and others.

3. Reminder – Normally if we have gathered here,  there are many volunteers who assist the people and welcome the visitors. In fact, we have also doctor’s volunteers for giving first aid. Somebody will remind them that we have Doctor inside, telling them if they are not feeling well don’t hesitate to consult the doctor inside.

4. Ask where they preferred to seat –  Before they enter the chapel or to the seat reserved, perhaps it’s good to ask if the need go somewhere like WC or they want to enter directly to the chapel. Then accompany them to their reserved seat as well as their companion. Ask if they are comfortable with their place or they want to transfer or seat beside their friends with disabilities also. If they don’t have a companion, perhaps one of us in the community will seat beside them.

5. Give assistance – During the worship, This is what we do normally to the aged sisters. Perhaps this is also applicable to people with disabilities. During communion, we help the priest in giving communion. We used to go to the sisters who are unable to walk.

6. Give Evaluation sheet – After the celebration, I think it’s good to know what are the difficulties they encounter during the celebration especially persons with disabilities. So that it will not happen again for the next celebration. 


Having a good environment and a comfortable place can affect our prayer life. More so for people with disabilities. So we need to give them a good atmosphere in order for them to enjoy the celebration.

Sacred Heart Catholic Parish: Waltham, MA United States

Contributed by Sr. Mira Taurannang


I would like to begin with this quotation from Our Doors Are Open – Guide for Accessible Congregations, which says, “Accessibility does not equal inclusion. To be included in a community means to have opportunities to actively participate and make contributions to the community.”[1] This leads to choosing the “Have You Try These” list on p. 27 to challenge my parish’s effort in addressing these activities.

  • 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.

From the above list, the first three activities have been implemented in my parish and they are progressively doing well so I will focus on the last two-bolded points instead. I expect that in addressing these needs, we will allow more accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities in our faith community especially our places of worship.

How to Guide

Step 1. Ask the people with disabilities, what are their needs?

Knowing the needs of people with disabilities would help us to identify and address what we have already put into place and what needs to be addressed. If there is a need, there should be a solution. The number one priority is to know these needs. This brings me to the next step.

Step 2. Addressing these needs.

Addressing the issues and needs help our welcoming committee to plan for the needs that exist within our own context. For example: This person has a problem with bright lights, therefore we have to create more quiet space for dim lightings in our places of worship.

Step 3. Inclusive designs – ramps, exit signs, adjustable lights, elevators, unscented spaces, etc.

Once we know the needs of our new parishioners and especially people with disabilities, we can create a fragrance-free environment for those who are allergic to scented flowers. We can install adjustable lights for those with vision problems.  

Step 4.  Put into place these needs – accessibility and inclusion

By promoting these needs, we are able to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities and therefore create accessibility and inclusion for them as well as the faith community as a whole.


Barriers of any kind can affect the full participation and contribution of people with disabilities, which in turn affect accessibility and inclusion process. People with disabilities and the elderly are most likely to face the consequences of these barriers. Physical accessibility does not end with ramps for wheelchair users. Rather, it goes as far as the unscented spaces for those with allergies, adjustable lights for those with vision problems and audio aids for those with hearing problems.  Therefore, it is a call for each faithful member of the faith community to collaborate and find ways that would help to promote accessibility and inclusion in our faith communities. 

[1] Our Doors Are Open – Guide for Accessible Congregations, (2018), p.19