Community members in Toronto participate in Co-Creation workshop led by the OCAD research team. Photo courtesy of Francisco Uy

Researchers open doors to worshippers with disabilities

By  Jacklyn Gilmor
  • October 4, 2017
Places of worship should be more accessible for people with all types of disabilities, said David Pereyra, a project coordinator at OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC). 


Pereyra and his colleague Vera Roberts recently launched the project Our Doors Are Open, which provides training and resources for places of worship on how to be more inclusive to people with disabilities. 

The project has a diverse research team that includes six OCAD students of many faith backgrounds, including Catholic, Muslim and Jewish. Officially launched in March, it is now beginning to reach out to commu-nities.

Second-year OCAD student Francisco Uy is a research assistant for the project. 

“I like to live by ‘love your neighbour as yourself,’ ” said Uy, who is a parishioner at St. Isaac Jogues parish in Pickering, Ont. 

Helping others is very important to him, Uy said, and Our Doors Are Open expands his perspective when it comes to people’s different needs. 

The project offers a variety of resources, such as training seminars, online tools and workshops.

Co-creation workshops are an opportunity for people of different faiths to come together and brainstorm ways to make their community more welcoming. Uy said participants can evaluate their communities in terms of accessibility, and walk away with “at least one immediate actionable goal.”

Pereyra said the idea for Our Doors Are Open came to him while attending a Mass at Sacre Coeur parish in Toronto. He noticed that the church had a projector and screen so people who are hard of hearing or have vision problems are able to more actively participate. 

He saw it and wondered how other places of worship could be more accommodating. “We (at the IDRC) are already (helping with) education and employment,” said Pereyra. “So why not places of worship?”

“It’s about changing how you think,” said Roberts, research manager at the centre. 

She said disabilities are not always visible so it is important to think beyond wheelchair ramps and consider other disabilities like blindness or hearing issues as well. 

Roberts considers herself agnostic, but said she has a deep respect for spirituality. People with disabilities should feel included in every aspect of their lives, especially their spiritual lives, which are often overlooked.

“A lot of times people experience a disability because the world around them creates barriers,” she said. 

Roberts said no community deliberately excludes anyone, but raising awareness is important. She said that, historically, people have designed the world without considering those who might have challenges. Most people recognize that mistake now, but it is still important for people to gain a deeper understanding.

As for the project’s future, Roberts wants to see all different faith groups make use of its resources, and for people with disabilities to feel welcomed. Often, they are very loyal to places that go the extra mile to try to accommodate them, she said. 

“There is no judgment. This is all in the spirit of everyone wanting to do better, even if it is just small changes,” she said.

The project’s resources are free and can be downloaded at opendoors.idrc.ocadu.ca. The project coordinators provide free advice and are also coming out with a new guide for worship centres that would like to be more accessible.

Gilmor, 19, is a second-year Journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ont.

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