A Statement on Inclusion and Accessibility
While many congregation have a good basic understanding of “accessibility,“ just as many have not yet really spent time examining their buildings and their programs with a broad goal of ”inclusion” in mind.
Inclusion is more than installing ramps and lifts and accessible bathrooms. Modifying our physical plants to make them accessible is inclusion at its most basic level. When we speak about inclusion and accessibility within our congregations, we ought to be aiming above this basic level towards a level of full inclusion.
The theology of full inclusion is based on the idea that human beings are created in the image of God. To spell this out in the most challenging way — it is remembering that people on the autistic spectrum and neuro-typicals; people with 46 chromosomes and people with 47 chromosomes; people with visual or auditory impairments and sighted- and hearing-people; people who move around on wheels and people who move about on legs; are all equally created in the image of God.
Inclusion means proactively modifying our sanctuaries and social halls, our synagogue programs, our religious school programs and our Kiddushim, to provide nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free food alternatives, and to address the needs of students with ADD, ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and other physical and mental differences.
Inclusion means that we plan for the unexpected visitor and provide a Braille Siddur. We don’t say that we have no blind congregants, so we don’t need to provide a Braille Siddur. Inclusion means that we plan for the unexpected visitor with a hearing impairment, and provide a hearing amplification system. Inclusion means that we make ourselves open and welcoming to all visitors, potential members, and potential Jews.
Inclusion means that we are self-critical in our examination of our institutes for a culture which explicitly or implicitly views the differently-abled as “broken,” “in need of fixing or healing,” or “deserving of pity.” A truly inclusive religious community is one which thinks of each person as wholly representing a positive and unblemished image of God.
Beyond Ramps and Lifts: Some resources to make our synagogues inclusive of disabled visitors
Large Print Resources
The USCJ and the RA have published large print editions of Siddur Sim Shalom, Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat, Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays, and the Harlow Mahzor. They have not (yet?) published a large print Etz Hayyim Humash, but I understand that they have given at least one congregation permission to enlarge and photocopy the entire book in sections.
The Jewish Braille Institute (jbilibrary.org) has published several Siddurim (Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform) in Braille, as well as Torah and Tanakh (English and Hebrew), Mahzorim, Haggadot, and more.
Hearing Impaired Resources
The telecoil (T-coil) is an assistive listening system which broadcasts the sound directly into the listener’s hearing aids. The hearing loop technology is used by many airports, theaters, auditoriums. See hearingloop.org for details.