When Big Feels Small: Creating Inclusive Communities at Large-Scale Events

Teens join in song to celebrate the diverse and inclusive community at 2018 BBYO International Convention.

By Arielle Handel and Dan Alpert

Throughout the month of February, communities around the world recognized and participated in JDAIM, Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, with the goal of raising awareness and championing the rights of those with differing abilities, as well as creating more inclusive Jewish communities where everyone feels valued and dignified, no matter their identification.

As a leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement, BBYO welcomes all teens, regardless of background, denominational affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, including those with a range of intellectual, emotional, and physical abilities. Over President’s Day weekend in February, 3,000 teens from 36 countries converged in Orlando, Florida for BBYO’s annual International Convention (IC), where they practiced and enhanced their leadership skills, heard from inspiring guest speakers, and celebrated their successes from this past year, all while proclaiming ‘Together We Will’ in their efforts to create a strong Jewish future. To ensure an inclusive weekend that everyone could enjoy, professional staff members worked along side teen leaders and regional staff to ensure accommodations were made for any teen that needed it.

Prior to IC, teens reflected on how important an inclusive environment is to them, especially as young people. “BBYO has been one of the most impactful parts of my teen life, and I couldn’t imagine each day without it. I want to make sure that every teen, especially those who might not get an easy access to other incredible experiences or may have disabilities that hold them back, are able to enjoy the type of activities I do and gain the same knowledge, strength, and friendships as I have. As the Jewish future, it is our responsibility to hold each other accountable to create equality and loving kindness in our communities, and I am grateful that I have been given that opportunity through BBYO,” said Natalie L. from BBYO Pacific Western Region.

There were five key factors that contributed to being able to provide a highly inclusive environment to participants at a large-scale event like IC:

  • Grassroots leadership. Teen leaders with a passion for inclusion worked alongside professional staff on an Inclusion Committee to plan new programs and activities to ensure all teens could get the most of their time at the convention.
  • Wide-ranging accommodations. To accommodate for a variety of needs, teens were able to use assistive devices to move more freely around the convention, with ample amount of time to ensure flexibility within their own schedule. Additionally, fidget devices were given out so that teens could focus more on the programming that they were attending. Gender neutral bathrooms were also placed within the convention center to ensure teens felt comfortable in all situations.
  • Round the clock support. Throughout the weekend, teens who required one-on-one support were supported by trained staff. Additionally, onsite nurses, doctors, and social workers were accessible to all during the convention.
  • Inclusivityfocused programming. Not only were inclusive measures provided throughout the convention plans and layout, but the theme of inclusion was implemented within event programming as well. Teens had the opportunity to participate in tracks on topics such as disability awareness and inclusion, LGBTQ advocacy, and mental health, and even had a chance to visit the Pulse Night Club memorial in Orlando, in addition to the many other programs taking place.
  • Community sense of equality. Gender neutral bathrooms were available to ensure participants had options while attending the convention. Additionally, ‘siblinghood’ programming gave delegates an opportunity to bond with everyone, rather than gender specific programming aimed at brotherhood or sisterhood.

“BBYO is a network of leaders who care about making each member feel at home. They offer the most supportive and welcoming oasis for all Jewish teens, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, and I am so proud to be a part of it,” said Shani K., BBYO Connecticut Valley Region.

By embracing our core Jewish values and working with others to ensure a comfortable, inclusive, and enjoyable atmosphere for all, organizations can take steps like these to provide attendees of their events an unforgettable experience where they can feel themselves and at home.

Arielle Handel is the Director of Inclusion and Dan Alpert is a Marketing and Communications Intern at BBYO.