By Elisa Blank and Lisa Friedman
It has been established that involvement in a religious community enhances quality of life for people with disabilities. Likewise, congregations are enriched when every member feels a true sense of belonging. Yet, even with this agreement in the value of disability inclusion, some congregations struggle to develop best practices around engaging individuals with a vast array of abilities. It is indeed a broad mandate for a congregation to start from scratch and improve access for these members. Many congregations aren’t even sure where to start.
Those congregations who decide to take this important leap are faced with the enormous task of deciding what changes they should make. For instance, they could build an entry ramp that accommodates mobility needs, add alternate formats of prayer books (i.e. braille or large print), or purchase assistive-listening devices. The hardest challenge is helping members embrace an attitude of welcome and finding ways to communicate that inclusion is a shared community value.
With this in mind, UJA-Federation developed an online resource that can be downloaded for free as a tool for congregations interested in growing their capacity for inclusion. It is available here: UJA’s Special Needs Inclusion Toolkit.
This toolkit was an outgrowth of UJA’s Synagogue Inclusion Project, which took 14 synagogues through a combination of learning experiences, including personalized coaching and network building, in order to develop models for successful inclusion. Funded by the Oppenheimer Haas Foundation, this project enabled us to identify real examples of synagogue inclusion and concrete tools that can be utilized and adapted by synagogues across the country.
Included in the guide are examples from the pilot that we think will inspire other congregations as they work to increase their capacity for inclusion. We encourage synagogues to embark on their own journey toward inclusion, respect, and dignity for people of all abilities. To get started, visit: www.ujafedny.org/get-info/for-synagogues/.
Elisa Blank is SYNERGY regional manager and oversees the Synagogue Inclusion Project for UJA-Federation of New York.
Lisa Friedman is an independent consultant serving as the project manager of UJA-Federation of New York’s Synagogue Inclusion Project