What Does It Mean to Be Welcoming: Ableism and Inclusion

This blog post is the second in a three-part series exploring what it means for a congregation to be truly welcoming. Each week we explore a different topic: gender inclusivity, welcoming people of all (dis)abilities, and appropriate touch.

A common thread that runs through the research on ability inclusion is how pervasive inaccessibility is in our environment. Ableism is the intentional or unintentional discrimination or oppression of individuals with disabilities. An example of this would be holding a meeting at a table over three feet high, at which a person using a wheelchair is unable to sit at eye level. Or gathering at a space without handicap-accessible restrooms. This week we explore how we might alter our environment at AARC to be more welcoming, functional, and usable for people of all abilities.

We are taught in Leviticus 19:14, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Most of us do not live by all the laws laid out in Leviticus, but this passage does demonstrate that early in Jewish history accommodations for those with disabilities were considered. What might be an “insult” or “stumbling block” in biblical times might equal a lack of accommodation in our time, such as a service that a person cannot hear or a drinking fountain that is at an inaccessible height.

Engaging with ability inclusion is also not new to modern Judaism. In an effort to celebrate those with disabilities, an interdenominational coalition of Jews have begun to celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month. During the month of February, Jews are encouraged to evaluate their inclusion practices and vow to make improvements. Although it is not February now, we can nevertheless ask ourselves, what can we do to make our congregation more accommodating to those with disabilities?

To start off, AARC will begin by making the following changes:

  • We will hold seats at the front of the room for those who need accommodation to hear or see the Rabbi during services. These seats will be indicated with a small notice taped to the inside of the seat.
  • We will pass around a second microphone to anyone in the general seating area who is speaking or responding to questions, to allow everyone, regardless of hearing ability, to participate in conversation. Even if you believe your voice carries, it might not be e audible by someone with severe hearing loss.
  • We will hold seats at the back of the room for those who need to leave during services.
  • We will provide magnifying glasses for anyone who would find them useful in reading the prayer book or the Torah.
  • We will make sure that aisles are sufficiently wide to accommodate wheelchairs.
  • As a congregation, we will continue to make an effort to provide transportation to services for those who need assistance.

This list of accommodations is just a start! When I reviewed the list with a loved one with a hearing impairment, she pointed out how many of the solutions offered were not in fact effective for her kind of hearing loss. This brought to my attention that to truly begin the conversation about being inclusive to all abilities, we need to bring those in need to the center of the discussion. If there is an accommodation you would like us to include, please comment and join the discussion! You may also email Rabbi Ora (rabbi@aarecon.org) or me (aarcgillian@gmail.com) directly. We will all do our best to widen our focus as much as possible in order to make people with all abilities feel welcome at AARC!

Comments

  1. This quote from a Dr. Laura Dorwart struck me today: “Accessibility is too often presented as being about hurt feelings, as if disabled people’s lives are defined by our emotions. Accessibility is a legal and ethical responsibility and obligation, not something you bestow on someone to avoid making them sad.”

Leave a Comment

*