Results from a new poll conducted by RespectAbilityUSA and Jerusalem U found that many Jews support the inclusion of disabled Jews in Jewish organizations and events, but suggest that many of these venues and organizations aren’t practicing what their members preach.
Of 2,607 Jews surveyed, 223 reported having a disability, and 594 reported having a family member or a close friend with a disability. Many of the 223 with disabilities were over the age of 50.
Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed said they strongly agreed that Jewish events and organizations should be welcoming and inclusive to those with disabilities. The percentage shows that those surveyed felt strongly about the subject, even more so than raising children with Jewish identities (81 percent) and the importance of caring about Israel (80 percent).
According to RespectAbility strategist Meagan Buren, two main issues were a matter of concern in the survey. One was that one-fifth of disabled Jews were reported to have been turned away from Jewish events and organizations because of a lack of accommodations. Most of these situations were reported by parents or friends of the disabled.
This led to the second issue, which is that these disabled Jews seemed to be missing from the survey. While the study shows that most Jews strongly support inclusion, the fact that most of 223 disabled Jews surveyed didn’t report this themselves shows that inclusion isn’t being practiced by Jewish organizations as much as it should be.
“There’s no question that the engaged community feels strongly about inclusion,” Buren said. “While the community feels very strongly about it, it’s not necessarily happening in all the ways that we hoped it would in order to include them.”
Steve Eidelman, who is a member of the RespectAbility board of advisors, suggested that major Jewish organizations should conduct another study.
“This is a community-survival issue,” he said. “If families aren’t connected to their community, the chances of them staying involved are very small.”
What are some ways that Jewish communities can begin to practice inclusion? Shelley Cohen, who is president of the Jewish Inclusion Project, provided some advice, including creating inclusion communities and providing braille prayer books in synagogues, as well as having American Sign Language interpreters available.
“Inclusion is a very proactive process,” Cohen said.