Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive
Inclusion can seem overwhelming for a community that has not previously made accommodations or offered inclusive programming 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?”
Here are 10 steps to begin to make your congregation more inclusive:
1. 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 both.
2. 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.
3. Create a vision
While there are many tools to facilitate the visioning process, most synagogues already have a vision statement and are familiar with the process. Ensure that the vision of inclusion is in line with the synagogue’s vision.
4. 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. Prioritize Goals
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.
6. 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 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 transparency and 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.
8, 9 & 10. Lather, rinse, repeat
OK, not quite. But the idea is to put 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.
Originally published at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block