My name’s Mike Walker. Currently, I work for the Inclusive Design Research Centre. That’s a department of the Ontario College of Art and Design, where an extensive community of open-source developers, designers, researchers, advocates, and volunteers work together to ensure that emerging information technology and practices are designed inclusively—that is, with multiple body types in mind. In March 2021, I was incredibly pleased to become the IDRC’s primary researcher on the second phase of the Our Doors are Open Project, which aims to help churches in Ontario, Canada, and the world become more accessible. We want to help believers with disabilities integrate more fully in churches.
One of the key fruits of this project is a series of webinars, usually about seventy-five minutes in length, where we help individual church congregations or faith-based organizations to assess their own progress towards inclusion.
Within the webinars, we attempt to embody a relatively simple four-step process:
- First, we (the project team!) want to define and examine welcome and inclusion, so part of the meat of our webinar will involve group work. We want to help communities think and feel through the ways that they practice those two concepts. Welcome is open-ended; it’s primarily based on folks’ interpersonal experiences, and attuned to how other people engage with them in indoor and outdoor spaces. Meanwhile, inclusive thinking means keeping the diverse needs of different bodies in mind, embodying accessible behaviours, and—in particular—attempting to include everyone, and to validate their perspective from their own walk of life.
- Second, we want to help churches create an access plan for their communities, using our Brief Accessibility Checklist. The Checklist includes three kinds of barriers — attitudinal, structural, and communicative — and in the webinars, we regularly have ten or fifteen minutes of lively discussion of churches’ accessible and inclusive features, as well as the barriers they encounter to the participation of believers with disabilities.
- Third, we’d like to help church members promote the active participation of people with disabilities, and can offer you multiple strategies for that (closer to the end of the webinar), in terms of leadership, communication, and physical access. And!
- fourth, we want to help churches to reach out to members old and new. That part of the conversation encompasses the last few slides of our webinar.
In light of all this, how can Canadian churches “build back better,” or—more accurately—create a “new normal” after COVID that’s healthier than the old? I would simply, and strongly, recommend one strategy that works for us at the IDRC: just ask, just listen. When you encounter someone who’s clearly in need, just ask, “How can I help?” Then, just listen to the answer they give you, and provide aid—or point them to someone who can support them—based on that answer. This is a helpful tool, because it helps people with disabilities to clearly express our own needs.
We’re really looking forward to opening new doors to access with you folks! Thank you for reading.
To book an Our Doors Are Open workshop for your congregation, use the online scheduling tool or email Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. To register for the webinar being hosted by Christian Horizons on July 20 go to doorsopen.eventrbite.ca