Some examples of things we can do to make our synagogues, schools and organizations more accessible and open to those with special needs.
My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Isaiah 56:7
Making Your Building Accessible for All
Do not insult a person who is deaf or put a stumbling block in front of someone who is blind. Leviticus 19:14
Around the Building:
Create a task force that examines the building to see what can be done to make it more accessible to people with disabilities. Be sure to include people with disabilities on the task force. Have the task force create a short-range and long-range plan to address any physical impediments to inclusion. The task force may also want to survey the congregation as to what accommodations are needed.
Replace heavy exterior doors with sliding doors that will open automatically to allow people with disabilities to enter the building easily and without assistance.
Expand doorways particularly to bathrooms and sanctuary so that they are wheelchair accessible. If possible, make single doors into double doors
Add grab bars in toilet stalls.
Place signage around the building that calls attention to handicap accessible entrances. Include Braille on other signs around the building.
Place mezuzot at wheelchair height at appropriate locations.
In the Sanctuary
Place kippot and prayer books at a level that can be reached by everyone.
Make available large print prayer books, Braille prayer books or lighted magnifiers at the entrance to the synagogue.
Improve the sound system in the sanctuary with assistive listening devices and upgraded speaker systems.
Mention all forms of assistance for those with special needs in the Shabbat program handed out with the prayer book.
Make your bimah more accessible with handrails, a ramp or lift. Or, place a table on the main level of the sanctuary so that anyone can receive an aliyah.
Remove on or more pews to make space for wheelchair seating.
Ideas for Congregational Leadership:
All of Israel is responsible for one another. -Shavuot 39a
Learn more about the disabilities among members of your congregation and make plans for any special pastoral care that may be needed.
Hold a discussion and training session with clergy, synagogue staff, board and committee members, religious school staff and youth workers about welcoming people with disabilities. Instruct ushers regarding appropriate ways to greet and offer assistance to people with disabilities.
Review attitudes conveyed by written policies and unwritten codes of conduct toward people who look or act differently from others.
Locate and support local Jewish disability resources and programs. Support the National Jewish Disability Awareness Month in your community.
Create a Special Needs or Disability Awareness Committee. Match each committee member with a congregant who has special needs. The committee member should ensure that there is seating and other resources available for each congregant with special needs during services or other programming.
Create an area on the application form for High Holiday Tickets and other congregational programs for people with disabilities to indicate what assistance they require to participate.
Create a Special Needs Fund to help with costs of improved access to the building, prayer books for those with visual disabilities, a better sound system and other accommodations.
Helping Our Community to be More Inclusive:
If there be among you a needy person, thou shalt not harden thy heart, but thou shalt surely open thy hand. -Deuteronomy 15:7
Write a statement of welcome and inclusion that is added to all congregational membership materials.
Include the universal symbols of accessibility in all publicity and marketing for your congregation (ie: the icons for wheelchair access, assistive listening devices, etc.)
Keep resource information about disability-related programs and services, Jewish special education, and Jewish values related to disability in the synagogue library.
Invite a speaker on community inclusion to lead a program in honor of Disability Awareness Month.
Add a relevant disability related quote to the bulletin each week during Disability Awareness Month.
Create a program or open forum that will allow congregants to discuss any attitudinal barriers to inclusion that may exist in your congregation. Explore why those attitudes exist and develop a list of strategies to address and eliminate them from your congregational community.
Educating All of Our Students:
Educate each child according to their way. -Proverbs 22:6
Write a statement of inclusion that welcomes all students and include it in marketing and welcome packets for religious school families.
Include a short section on Special Needs in your school registration packet that inquires about any academic challenges or difficulties, students specific diagnostic label, modifications/accommodations that may be necessary for success. Assure parents/guardians that this information will be confidential and for the students benefit.
Encourage your congregation's religious school to infuse the curriculum with multi-sensory teaching strategies to encourage success by all students.
Hire a full or part-time Special Needs Coordinator, who coordinates programs for all students with identifies special educational needs.
Designate preschool/religious school tzedakah that is collected during Disability Awareness Month for the synagogue's Special Needs fund to enhance access to the building or to programs. During this time, integrate disability awareness and inclusion programming into the curriculum in an age appropriate way.
Help children with special needs to succeed in Jewish educational settings with modified curriculum and other accommodations. For some students with special needs, curriculum may need to be individualized.
Supporting People and Families with Special Needs
Oh God, may all created in Your image recognize that they are kin, so that in one spirit and in one friendship, they may be forever united before you.-Traditional Liturgy
Hold support group meetings for families with special needs concerns (all physical, emotional, developmental issues). The group should provide a forum for families to discuss and share ideas related to real challenges, ie: education, medical help, service providers, emotional support, etc. To make the group easier for all to attend, offer supervised activities for children and other people with special needs during the meetings.
Ask Caring Committee members to assist members of the congregants with special needs with grocery shopping and other errands on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Also ask Committee members to provide rides to and from the synagogue for programs and Shabbat services for congregants with special needs.