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People with Disabilities Speak up

People with Disabilities Speak up

16 May 2011

Putting in ramps and lifts – people with disabilities need more than this to feel welcomed and included in synagogues and at other religious gatherings, according to the recently released report “To belong, I need to be missed” from the Multifaith Disability Project, the first research project of its kind within Australia.

The largest problem for people with disabilities identified in the report was in participation and in other people's attitudes.

The issue is becoming more dire because more and more people are disabled – one in five Australians now, with a projection that one in four will be disabled by 2050, according to the report.

“All of our affiliates do well to work with and to include people of all abilities, but this report shows that we need to do more,” said JCCV President John Searle. “The founding principal of the JCCV is to make sure that all Jewish people feel welcome and safe in our community, so we need to make sure that our community members with disabilities feel as welcome and safe as anybody else.”

According to Jewish people interviewed for the report, the Jewish community does provide good access, such as Jewish Care organising its residents with disabilities to attend High Holiday services and an Orthodox synagogue providing a lift to the upper level for women who need it. Jewish leaders suggested greater awareness and education is required, although Rabbis have been flexible to enable bar and bat mitzvahs for people with disabilities.

However, concerns across all religions included attitudes such as embarrassment, assumption, judgment and undue attention to a disability. Many of those surveyed said they would feel more welcome if regular community members were more outgoing and helpful – including having a regular conversation, or offering to find an appropriate seat or to get something to drink. To improve inclusion at religious services, those interviewed suggested installing hearing loops, or having texts with ‘Easy English’ or large print.

“The JCCV has been active in promoting access for our ageing population, but one of the things we as a community need to do better is thinking beyond getting in the door,” Searle said. “We need to be aware of all disabilities, such as blindness, deafness and mental disabilities.”

The project was headed by the Uniting Church in Australia and included interviews and forum discussions with people with disabilities and with religious leaders from multiple faiths. “The JCCV applauds the project for including a spectrum of religious groups,” Searle said. “I am encouraged that Jewish organisations in Victoria will be able to take the lead to combat and solve this issue.”

Congregations and other groups are planning on taking up the task of improving the quality of inclusion at the conference ‘A Place For All – Faith and Community for People with Disabilities”, May 17th at the Uniting Church Centre, in Melbourne. Click here to participate in the online blog.

By Joshua Cole

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