A new poll by organizations striving to make Jewish groups more inclusive to people with disabilities has revealed some of the stumbling blocks to welcoming everyone into the fold.
The survey, taken by 2,000 people in the Washington area and Houston, shows that although the vast majority of respondents believe Jewish organizations should be inclusive, those same people don’t consider the need for inclusion to be urgent.
The poll was conducted by RespectAbilityUSA and Jewish Family Services of Houston, two organizations dedicated to making Jewish life more inclusive for people with disabilities. Those polled included parents with children under 15 years; parents with children in Jewish schools and camps; and Jewish communal workers.
When asked what they believe is the biggest barrier to inclusion, 31 percent of the respondents pointed to prejudice and stigma; another 20 percent said they didn’t believe there were many people with disabilities in their community.
The poll showed that many respondents believe Jewish organizations, and in particular Jewish day schools, don’t have the funding or the staff expertise to assist people with disabilities. Some of the respondents’ noted that Jewish schools don’t have the money or staff to handle the variety of disabilities, which can range from a child in leg braces to someone with autism.
In the words of one respondent, “I think you need to have realistic expectations based on the resources that are available, and understanding of what is realistic to be able to provide, and what is really just not realistic.”
The poll also showed that people who have family members with disabilities don’t necessarily consider them disabled. Fifty-one percent of the people polled checked “none of the above,” meaning they did not have a disability nor did any of their friends and family.
Yet, some of these same people then said they had a relative who uses a wheelchair and a child or relative who needs a particular service, said Meagan Buren, vice president of RespectAbility.
The poll showed that many Jewish organizational leaders believe they lack the funding or the staff expertise to assist people with disabilities. Buren pointed out that it’s important to get the word out that many people can be included without great expense or expertise.
“Change does not happen overnight,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said, president of RespectAbilityUSA. She said she is optimistic that information learned from this poll will enable organizations to become more inclusive.