Survey: Support of disabled Jews doesn’t translate into action

by Ian Zelaya

Results from a new poll conducted by RespectAbilityUSA and JerusalemU find that many Jews support the inclusion of disabled Jews in Jewish organizations and events, but suggest that many of these venues and organizations aren’t practicing what their members preach.

Out of the 2,607 Jews surveyed, 223 of them reported having a disability and 594 reported having a family member or a close friend with a disability. Many of the 223 with disabilities were over 50.

Most of the Jews who participated in the survey are engaged in the community, as it wasn’t given to a national random sample. Surveys were emailed to people associated with JerusalemU, subscribers to Jewish news publications, and members of Jewish organizations and communities around the country.

Of those surveyed, 89 percent said they strongly agreed that Jewish events and organizations should be welcoming and inclusive to those with disabilities. The percentage shows that those surveyed felt strongly about the subject, even more so than raising Jewish children (81 percent) and the importance of caring about Israel (80 percent).

What those at RespectAbility and JerusalemU found interesting was that Jews between the ages of 18-29 had even more gaps in intensity when it came to the various subjects. 88 percent supported the inclusion of disabled Jews while 75 percent felt strongly about raising Jewish children.

According to RespectAbility strategist Meagan Buren, two main issues were a matter of concern in the survey. One was that 1/5 of disabled Jews were reported to have been turned away from Jewish events and organizations because of lack of accommodations. Most of these situations were reported by parents or friends of the disabled.

This lead to the second issue, which is that these disabled Jews seemed to be missing from the survey. While the study shows that most Jews strongly support inclusion, the fact most of 223 disabled Jews surveyed didn’t report this themselves shows that inclusion isn’t being practiced by Jewish organizations as much as it should be.

“There’s no question that the engaged community feels strongly about inclusion,” Buren said. “While the community feels very strongly about it, it’s not necessarily happening in all the ways that we hoped it would in order to include them.”

Other people involved in the study included RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, Professor Steve Eidelman, RespectAbility co-founder Shelley Cohen, Jerusalem U founder Rabbi Raphael Shore, Jerusalem U president Amy Holtz and Professor Steve Eidelman.

Eidelman, a RespectAbility board of advisors member and a leading disability expert, suggested that major Jewish organizations should conduct another, scientific study.

“This is a community survival issue,” he said. “If families aren’t connected to their community, the chances of them staying involved are very small.”

While the people involved in creating the survey were mostly concerned with the lack of inclusion found in Jewish organizations and events, many were happy with the fact that a majority of younger Jews reported that they support the inclusion of the disabled.

“I am so impressed with our younger generation,” Holtz said. “Our mission is to create proud Jews, and that certainly includes all Jews with disabilities.”

So what are some ways that Jewish communities can begin to practice inclusion? Cohen, who’s also the president of the Jewish Inclusion Project, provided some advice.

“Inclusion is a very proactive process,” Cohen said. “I’m dedicated to teaching clergy how they need to do inclusions in our schools by using different methodologies that will create a more mainstream environment.”

Creating inclusion communities and providing brail prayer books in synagogues, as well as having American sign language interpreters available are just some examples of inclusion Cohen suggested.

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