Inclusion can seem overwhelming for a community that has not previously made accommodations or offered opportunities for individuals with disabilities. My advice? Start small, but start somewhere. And while this may help to make the task seem somewhat less daunting, I suspect that for many, it begs the question, “How do I begin?”
Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive:
- Identify the key stakeholders.
Inclusion of people with disabilities is not a one-person job. While one person can light a spark, no one person can change the culture of a synagogue alone. Assemble a core group of professionals and lay people. Include someone with disabilities or the parent of a child with disabilities or, better yet, both.
- Recognize that inclusion is about changing a culture.
Culture change is a process. Recognize that you have embarked on a long-term endeavor and that the process itself can and will be as significant as the destination.
- Create a vision
While there are many tools to facilitate the visioning process, most synagogues already have a Vision or Mission Statement. What is significant is to ensure that the synagogue’s vision includes a message of inclusion of people of all abilities.
- Set Goals
This is an opportunity to dream. Do not engage in discussions of what may or may not be possible at this stage, as you will limit yourself.
5. Identify “low-hanging fruit”
This is about doing things such as adding signage, moving items to be more visible, or other things that might be considered “easy” in your community (think: doesn’t require board approval!). Initial success sets the stage to continue the forward momentum.
- Prioritize Goals
Explore other goals from #4 above and discuss what is realistic and possible in the short-term and what must be tabled for a later point in time. This is most frequently the place where congregations get stuck. Ideally, you will choose 3-5 goals to act upon, but if you must choose only one to enable movement forward, do that.
- Get Help
If one of your stakeholders is not a professional in the disability world, this is the time to explore bringing in a consultant. And if one of your stakeholders does not have a disability and/or a child with a disability, here is the place to find someone who can share that perspective. Your goals will help to determine if you should seek an architect, an educator, a lawyer, etc.
Let the rest of the congregation know about your efforts. Changing a culture requires transparencyand support; keeping your work a “secret” until a program or event is “ready” can be a mistake.Inclusion is not about an isolated program, it is about relationships. Invite others into your conversations.
9 & 10. Reflect and repeat
Turn your goal into action, build in opportunities for assessment and reflection, and then do it all again.
Keep at it. Inclusion requires intentionality, dedication and perseverance. It is hard work, but it is work that is important, meaningful and satisfying.
Lisa Friedman is widely recognized as a Jewish Disability Inclusion Expert. She is an Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Central New Jersey, where she has developed and oversees an inclusive synagogue school. Lisa consults with faith-based organizations to guide them in the development of inclusive practices for staff, clergy, and families through dialogue, interactive workshops and awareness training. Lisa is a sought after speaker on a wide variety of topics blogs about disabilities and inclusion at Removing the Stumbling Block.
Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared in Removing the Stumbling Block.