Our Doors are Open Guide: Implementation Examples

Welcome New People into Your Community

Anglican Parish: Trinidad & Tobago

Contributed by Ashton Gomez

Making a difference – Loving your neighbour as you love yourself


The Parish is set to host an all-inclusive event in early 2020, although the date has not been confirmed we have begun to prepare for this very important event.

Focusing on the sub-theme of loving your neighbour as you love yourself, we are hoping to bring to everyone’s attention that we are all restricted in some way or the other, it is far easier to focus on our commonality that to look intently at our differences. With this in mind, the following is what we intend to do;

  • Create a family-oriented fun day – This would allow us to bring some form of familiarity to those who may have social anxiety and would not normally wish to come out.
  • Because it is family-oriented our focus would be on learning about the different kinds of disabilities that exist within the community and how we may be able to address the needs of those that live therein. We would invite speakers to present so that everyone can become informed adequately.
  • Have fun, by interacting in varied types of activities that can be shared by those with physical or learning disabilities.

The Plan

  • Make the space for the event user-friendly, since we would like to use the Church grounds, it would require us to put down some material infrastructure to make the open areas (outside) completely accessible to those that may have to use wheelchairs. We would also need to rent some toilet facilities that can accommodate wheelchairs as well.
  • Limit, reduce or even avoid loud noises as far as is possible. This may be the biggest challenge, in that while we may not have loud or even overly excitable music, we may not be able to control loud outbursts from those patronizing the event.
  • Use games that would attract for example the life-sized Checkers, Ludo, or Chess. We believe that these would bring about some greater sense of interaction and focus on laughter and communication.
  • Convert the parish hall into a cafeteria with tables with and without chairs at varied locations to foster communication. The idea would be to challenge to some degree the comfort zone of all. 
  • With the guidance of members from the differently-abled community, put on a talent show to close off the event. It is our hope that as we engage in such an activity, persons would be able to appreciate that being different doesn’t mean being incapable. Perhaps we may even get some collaborations to happen.


Making a difference is in itself a challenge, not everyone is going to buy into this project. We would want those who attend to come away with a deeper knowledge of Christ as the one who calls, sanctifies and heals. For while God can heal completely we are not always cured of our physical limitations. Our Parish would be moving on the direction of loving yourself, no matter how you look, what you sound like or even what you capable or not capable of doing. If we learn to love ourselves and embrace the truth about ourselves, that is, we are all flawed and thereby we are all living with a disability we would be able to love others. The notion that others who are living with a disability need to be, or more importantly, in our local context that they do not bear the full image of Christ will disappear. I would close with this “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him, may not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16. I think that this is most fitting for this event and for Our Doors are Open, because it is inclusive, no one is denied because of impairment. May we learn to be as open as God has shown.

Catholic Parish Church: Mzuzu Catholic. Malawi

Contributed by Fr. Austin Ndowera

Dance and Make a Difference


‘Dance and make a difference’ is an affair of the heart for us. Dancing fosters to overcome all barriers of birth and origin, faith, politics or profession and makes it possible to meet people with appreciation and tolerance at eye level. This is why in our community, we thought of making a difference by organizing a special dance and some drinks with people with disabilities as also one way of fundraising for the start of this noble task ahead of us.

Our event did not only stimulate the joy of living but also gave people the possibility to dance together for a better world. We hope, that diversity in daily life will be a matter of course for everybody and that discrimination of any kind will be part of the past soon.

It was important to us that our community here supported dance in every facet as well as we would like to give every person a barrier-free access to an open-minded, happy and supportive community.

The Event

What happened?

In our parish, together with the people with disabilities, we organized Mass to pray for the people with disabilities and to sensitize the community. (See below the members of the choir, the lady, Mayimayi, one of the organizers and myself after mass.)

Image of the community with lady Mayimayi in her wheelchair with the choir and the parish priest seated to her left. Everybody smiling.
Second image of the community with lady Mayimayi in her wheelchair with the choir and the parish priest seated to her left. Everybody smiling.

When we were planning, we said it would not be possible to only celebrate mass and end there and end there. We thought of reaching out too many people after the Mass at Church. And so, we organized to also have a drink and dance event. We invited a lady in a wheelchair to give a speech and touch the hearts of many. She was so inspirational. People appreciated so much. After mass that’s when we had the “Dance and make a difference” event.

The Dance and Interaction

This lady in a wheelchair called “Mayimayi” suggested for us to have a dance after mass. She told me “Father, do you know that am a good dancer?” I wondered for a few seconds but consented. My initial response was it would be boring and will not draw enough crowds to come for the Making a Difference Dance fundraising event. But, a few minutes into the show, I was completely hooked. It was a contemporary form of dance using popular music and beats. I could not take my eyes off this lady and others. Some women in support for the cause dressed in colourful uniforms. The little boys and girls also impressed the audience with their supple and nimble skills.

This lady Mayimayi told me, “I had to do a lot of soul searching,” she said. “I had to finally make it okay in my mind, body, and spirit that I couldn’t do all the same things. I was not going to recover or be the way I was before the accident.” (She was involved in an accident before she was started to use a wheelchair)

Accepting that fact and still committing to try a dance in her wheelchair was one of the most difficult parts of her recovery. Fear of failure and rejection held Mayimayi back from pursuing what was once as natural as breathing to her, but she committed to moving forward.

When transposing for dancers in wheelchairs, Mayimayi noted that it is important not to lose sight of what the dance looks like standing up. Watching her in a transposition technique, it appears as though Mayimayi’s shoulders act as the waist; the arms are like legs, the elbows like knees, the wrists like ankles, and hands like feet. She uses her arms to replicate the same type of lines that the standing dancers create with their arms and legs. The positioning of the body above the shoulders is quite intentional as well; for example, when the standing dancers rise to relevé, Mayimayi suggests that dancers in wheelchairs lift their chest, neck, and head, focusing their eyes in a slightly elevated position. Mayimayi said about her transposing for dancers like herself in wheelchairs, “We are doing the same thing, differently.” (Watch the video clip of how Mayimayi and I showed the community that we can make a difference by following this link: https://youtu.be/85MDYGxVsFw.) 

Mayimayi lives and teaches by a piece of advice that she received from a friend who told her, “You have to learn to dance in the body you have.” She said she took this mantra to heart and now she is using it to motivate herself and her friends who often struggle with their own body perceptions. “A dancer’s body is their instrument,” Mayimayi said. “If you hate your body, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to produce anything of great beauty.” Learning to accept and embrace your body’s limitations is one of the most important things Mayimayi believes especially when one interacts with people with disabilities.

Mayimayi said that the first thing she tells people with disabilities is that they must give themselves permission to move in ways they never thought that they could. This results in an increase in their self-esteem, as they gain confidence in their ability to move and see themselves in a new light. “After accomplishing something,” Mayimayi said, “you can’t say ‘I can’t’ because you’ve already done it!” Disability doesn’t give or take away talent, according to Mayimayi. Rather, it simply limits your opportunities. Dancing not only improves physical movement and capabilities; it promotes overall wellness by giving individuals confidence in their abilities.


At the end of the event, I then understood exactly what Mayimayi wanted us to have a dance event after celebrating mass. Dance teaches people about teamwork and respect, to think creatively and express themselves. It can break down gender inequality and discrimination and teach people to support each other. It also requires people to look after their bodies and make healthy decisions. by holding the event every year. This Sunday’s event has raised around 500,000.00 Malawi Kwacha (U$684.) for this newly founded “People with Disabilities Committee.” We have again organized another fundraising event for the same this coming Sunday because the people were so impressed and taken unawares. The document will be updated. We can dance to make a difference.

Volunteer Orientation – Service Animals in Ontario – Lesson Plan

Contributed by Chantal Brien

Learning Goals

By the end of this lesson, learners should be able to do the following:

  • Describe a service animal, including types of service animals;
  • Understand the general legal obligations related to accommodating handlers of service animals;
  • Appropriately welcome a person with a service animal to our community 


  • Presenter Lesson Plan
  • Student notepages
  • Selection of stuffed animals or other appropriate aids for practical exercise

Description of the Activity


  • Introduce lesson objectives to training audience
  • Engagement question – solicit examples from training audience of a time where they needed assistance in order to participate in an activity or event. Ask them to describe how they would feel if they were excluded because someone prevented the assistance they needed from being provided.


  • Explain the obligation to accommodate service animals
    • Ethically – we want everyone to feel welcome
    • Legal requirement in Ontario
  • Explain how to recognize a service animal
    • Primarily dogs, but not always
    • Service animals vs emotional support animals vs therapy dogs
    • What to do if you are unsure
  • Explain how to accommodate service animals in our community
    • Actions to take when another person has an allergy
    • Prohibited areas
    • Alternate accommodations


  • Use provided confirmation questions to ensure learners understood lesson material
  • Practical exercise using cue cards and stuffed animals (or other appropriate aids)


  • Introduce yourself
  • In this lesson, we are going to learn about service animals
  •  Introduce lesson objectives
    • Our obligations with respect to service animals
      •  Moral – Everyone is welcome, not everyone will be able to access our community if service animals aren’t welcome
      • Legal – People who use service animals have access rights. Additionally, training on this subject is legally mandated
    • Describe a service animal
      • Types of service animals
      • How to identify a service animal
      • What to do if you aren’t sure if an animal is a service animal
    • How we as a community accommodate people who use service animals
      • Allergies and other problems
      • Areas prohibited to animals
      • What to do if a person who uses a service animal needs access to a prohibited area
  • Engagement question – solicit examples from training audience of a time where they needed assistance in order to participate in an activity or event. Be sure to allow sufficient time for everyone to think of an example before asking individual learners to share stories.
  • Ask the learners to describe how they would feel if they were excluded because someone prevented the assistance they needed from being provided.
  • Draw out key themes from the stories provided and link to the lesson (everyone needs help to do something at some point and people who use service animals are like us in that respect. If feels really terrible to be excluded and we don’t want people with disabilities to experience that in our community)


  • Explain the obligation to accommodate service animals
    •  Ethically – we want everyone to feel welcome. Build on the stories solicited during the engagement question to highlight the importance of welcoming people who use service animals
    •  Legal requirement in Ontario
      • People with disabilities have legal access rights
      • Although they look different from a wheelchair or hearing aids, service animals should be thought of in a similar manner – they help their handlers to access places and events that would otherwise be inaccessible.
      • Additionally, we are legally mandated to provide training to staff members, this includes volunteers like yourselves.
  • Engagement question – ask the training audience what they think of when they hear the term service animal. Highlight the following points if brought up, otherwise ensure that points are covered:
    • Service animals are most frequently dogs, but may be other animals, such as miniature horses;
    • Service animals function as an aid to a person with a disability. They are trained to perform a task to mitigate the impacts of a medical condition. They differ from emotional support animals, who can help people with mental health needs, but who are not trained to perform a task. Emotional Support Animals do not have the same access rights as Service Animals. Therapy dogs are a different category altogether. Their handlers are not the people who need them, but rather, they are taken to places where other people are helped or calmed by their presence. One place where they might be seen is a nursing home.
    •  Not all service animals are guide dogs for the blind. Some examples of other types or service animals are:
      • Dogs who assist people who are Deaf/deaf or hard of hearing. One task they might have is to get alert their handler when another person is using audible signals to draw attention;
      • Dogs who assist people with limited mobility, including some people who use wheelchairs. These dogs could be trained to retrieve dropped items, push buttons to open doors and other similar tasks;
      •  Dogs who assist people with post-traumatic stress disorder and other similar mental health conditions. One example of a task these dogs might have is guiding their handler to a safe space during a flashback or panic attack;
      • Dogs who assist people with autism. An example of a task these dogs might be trained to do is to help keep a child safe during a meltdown or to calm the child; and
      • Dogs who assist people with seizure disorders or other medical conditions that can cause a loss of consciousness. These dogs might be trained to use a special phone to call for help, to bring rescue medication or to help their handler into the recovery position.
      • These are just some examples; feel free to use others if brought up by the class or familiar to the group.
    • As covered during the previous point, many of the tasks that these animals are trained to do are critical to the safety and well being of the person with a disability using them. As such, it is very important not to pet or distract the animal. Although it might sound a little odd, service animals should be treated as medical equipment.
    • How to identify a service animal
      • The animal is wearing a visual indicator that it is a service animal, such as a harness or a vest.
      • If you are unsure, you may ask, “is that a service animal?” The person with the animal should be able to show you something the animal is wearing to indicate that it is a service animal, or to provide documentation from a regulated health professional.
        • Any of the following are not permitted:
          • Asking for a demonstration of the task the animal is trained to do;
          • Asking what disability the animal is for;
          • Asking what tasks the animal does; or
          • Any other similar question.
  • Explain how to accommodate service animals in our community
    •  If another person has an allergy to the service animal, or is scared of the service animal, that does not mean that the handler is not permitted to enter. Some creativity may be required to find alternate accommodations. For example,
      • Seating the person with an allergy and the person who uses a service animal as far apart as possible; or
      • Serving both people at different times.
    • There are some areas where service animals are not permitted to enter. In our facility, service animals are legally not allowed to enter the kitchen.  We still need to strive to provide equal opportunities to people who use service animals in other ways though! We could:
      •  Change locations if an activity could be conducted outside food preparation areas; or
      • Assign a support person to assist the person with a disability while they are in the kitchen while providing a safe place for their service animal;


  • Pose the following questions to the training audience to ensure that they have understood the lesson:
    • How can you identify a service animal (visual indication such as a harness or a vest, or a note from a regulated health professional).
    •  True or False
      • Only dogs can be service animals (F)
      •  If I am scared of dogs, I don’t have to allow access to a person using a guide dog (F)
      • A service animal is not the same thing as a therapy dog (T)
      • We accommodate people who use service animals because we want everyone to feel welcome, but it isn’t a legal obligation (F)
    • What are some examples of tasks that a service animal might be trained to perform (guiding people with visual impairments, alerting people with hearing impairments to sounds, calling for help, retrieving dropped items, opening doors, guiding to safety, bringing rescue medication, assisting to recovery position or any other tasks discussed during the relevant section).
  • Conduct a practical exercise using stuffed animals (or other appropriate aids) to practice accommodating people who use service animals. Ideally, tailor the scenarios to situations the volunteers may encounter in their duties.

Religious Community: Rome, Italy

Contributed by Sr. Gemma Tenedero Benavidez

How to involved a Religious Community to work with People with Disabilities


Since this is my last and final contribution to this seminar,  I tried to examine all the activities from activity one to three. I asked myself which one is very essential to do first?  In order that my community will get involved in working with people with disabilities. Which one will serve as our stepping stone in implementing the activities? I chose the barriers attitude on page fourteenth “ Our community leaders work with disabilities (and caregivers) so that needs are addressed”. Our community doesn’t have yet a well-trained people for this kind of special activity. Throughout the end of this seminar, a thought came to mind that there are some reasons why our community and other communities are not open to this kind of apostolate. Here I have some recommendations in order to get involve people with disabilities especially the religious communities.


  1. Exposure to people with disabilities during the formation period.

Among fifty-four priests here in my community I asked almost all of them if the experience working with people with disabilities, some answered  YES and others said NO. For us religious sisters, during our formation, we had also this kind of exposure when we were novices. The novices were given a chance to go to an institution that was assistant people with disabilities. But unfortunately, I was not able to join the activity because I got sick so I missed the opportunity to be with the group. The exposure lasts only for three days. For the priests, some said only four Sundays and others said one year. Form me three days or four Sundays is not enough.

  1. This seminar becomes part of the pastoral theology course of the curriculum.

If the exposure during formation years was too short, I think this seminar is a good continuation or follow up learning whatever they experienced from the formation. If the universities have a seminar like this it will help individuals to increase their ability to work and include people with disabilities in our communities. In my experience, while doing this seminar I started from zero. Now, little by little I became interested to work with people with disabilities. I started to ask my classmates in Angelicum where to find the institutions that are assisting persons with disabilities. They said one day they will accompany me. Another experience: Every Wednesday I used to pass by St. Peter Square because I have many things to do around the Vatican. It so happened while walking I saw six persons with disabilities seated on the wheelchairs they were trying to enter the square to attend the audience for the pope. I stopped before them and greeted them. I felt differently. There was joy inside. I thank this seminar because there is a big impact on my life. Before I thought I did not encounter them. Now, I realized that I used to encounter them in my way. I am just preoccupied with many things and just ignoring them. As St.  Augustine says in his book of confession “ You were with me, and I was not with you.”

  1. Train religious leader

After experiencing in the formation years then developed in the university. Here we can notice who are the member of the community has a passion for this kind of apostolate and train them to become a leader. Send them for seminars and special studies. Just last week I had the opportunity to talk to one member of the general council and asked about this kind of apostolate. I asked them why we are not open to people with disabilities. To my surprise, she answered that our congregation is starting to open this kind of apostolate in Thailand.  Some of our sisters are now studying for sign language in preparation to communicate for the deaf and mute. Who knows I will assign there one day. 


In asking information from priests and my classmates about people with disabilities, I came to realize that having experienced in working with persons with disabilities is a big impact on individuals. For me, I did not experience being with them but I became interested and prying to be with them. 

I think one of the reasons why some members of religious congregations and priests are not get involved this kind of apostolate perhaps because of lack of vocation. The priests are insufficient to get involved they have many things to do. I thank laypeople who are very active in working with people with disabilities. I really admired the sharing of my classmates during the seminar. I saw how concerned they are on Open Our Doors.

Sacred Heart Catholic Parish: Waltham, MA United States

Contributed by Sr. Mira Taurannang

Make a Difference Event!


“Make a Difference Event” is intended to bring members of the faith community together for a cause. It can be shown through the support and goodwill of the whole community. I have created this guide using all the resources I have learnt from this seminar, from both reading and our group discussions. I come up with three main goals for this event. Firstly, to promote awareness concerning people with disabilities, secondly, to reach out to people with disabilities and to new members and thirdly, to build trust and friendship with new members and people with disabilities. I will also include some of the important points from my previous assignments in this assignment.

Goal 1: Promoting Awareness Programs

In one of our discussions, we talked about changing the culture, our perception and our assumption on people with disabilities. Promoting awareness by letting our parishioners know that we are a diverse faith community with people of different abilities. Awareness programs are vital as part of promoting an inclusive and accessible community. These awareness programs can be presented through PowerPoint presentations or even giving talks and workshops to the youth group, prayer groups, etc. In doing so, we are letting the new members and people with disabilities know that our faith community has taken accessibility and inclusivity seriously. Therefore, offering them a climate and environment whereby accessible and inclusive features are top priorities.

Goal 2: Reaching Out

So how do we go about this? First and foremost, the members of the welcoming committee should be well prepared for this task. They should be trained and assisted in the task of reaching out to people with disabilities and especially those who need more assistance. The gifts of listening and understanding are crucially needed at this stage. This goal prompts us to “go out of our comfort zone” and reach out to those who may feel excluded from the life of the faith community because of different reasons and circumstances in their lives.

Goal 3: Building Trust and Friendship

There is a saying, “Trust is earned, not given.” Building trust in a relationship is central if both parties want to maintain the relationship. This is the key to a better relationship. As a member of the welcoming committee or a parishioner, one needs to build trust with people with disabilities. Interact with them, make small talks with them and above all, avoid the human tendency of making assumptions on what they can or cannot do. Allow them to be themselves so that they can give their best and contribute to the faith community. When they feel comfortable with you and around you, they will open themselves and ready to share with you.


“You do not 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.”[1] We do not need to be experts, but we are constantly invited and challenged to give what we can offer for our dear brothers and sisters with different abilities. This is what “make a difference” is all about.

[1] Our Doors Are Open Guide for Accessible Congregations, p.29