Jewish Journal

Mind the Inclusion Gap: Values vs. Reality

by Michelle K. Wolf

September 10, 2013 | 10:02 am

How do we collectively get our community to align its high values with everyday practice?

A new poll released today demonstrates the big gap between what we desire and what we actually have when it comes to welcoming Jews with disabilities. Although 89% of the Jews polled said they “strongly supported” including people with disabilities in Jewish life, 19% of Jews with disabilities in the sample also reported that they have “been turned away or unable to participate in a Jewish event or activity because of the disability.”

Valuing inclusion of Jews with disabilities polled higher than any other question in the study, including the centrality of Israel, marrying Jewish, or raising kids to be Jewish.

The online poll was conducted for RespectAbility USA and JerusalemU.org. and the age breakdown was 15% ages 18-29, 13% ages 30-49 and 72% ages 50+.

Professor Steve Eidelman, a leading disability expert said, “While it is wonderful for so many Jews to say they value inclusion of people with disabilities so highly, there is a great distance between the words and deeds in our community.”

A total of 2,607 Jews participated in the online poll, and 8.6% of those surveyed reported having a disability and another 22.8% said they either had a family member or close friend with a disability.

The poll was not a random sample; subscribers to the Jerusalem Post and/or Haaretz were asked to complete the survey, along with students from JerusalemU and thru social media channels. Outreach was also conducted with Jewish special needs programs such as Gateways in Boston, Jewish Family Service in Houston and the Tikvah programs at Ramah camps around the country.

Shelley Cohen, co-founder of RespectAbilityUSA and president of the Jewish Inclusion Project said: “When a Jewish family is told that their child cannot attend a Jewish day school, camp or other program because they have a disability, the community risks losing the entire Jewish family to participation."

In a conference call this morning she added that we need to be proactive in getting our schools, synagogues and camps to be more inclusive of Jewish participants with disabilities, and that it doesn’t need to cost much money to accomplish that goal.

The poll sponsors are hoping that the Federation system does a follow-up random study on this topic and also that all Jewish institutions form Inclusion Committees to make positive changes so that all Jews can be included.

A Jewish Leadership Institute on Disability and Inclusion will be held in Baltimore December 1-5 2013 to train Jewish communal professionals and educators on the nuts and bolts of inclusion.

RespectAbilityUSA is a new national nonprofit, non-sectarian organization 
whose mission is to:
- Reshape the attitudes of American society so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in and contribute to society, and
- Empower people with disabilities to achieve as much of the American dream as their abilities and efforts permit. 
Based in Maryland, it was recently founded by chair, Donn Weinberg and president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.

JersualemU is an online portal for Jewish distance learning and was founded in 2009 by Rabbi Raphael Shore, They have produced four 10-hour, online multimedia courses, has graduated more than 4,500 students, and is responsible for over 100,000 hours of Jewish and Israel learning by students worldwide. All of their videos are captioned to make it accessible for the sight-impaired.

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