There are plenty of Jews who have some form of disability who do not have opportunities to engage in the practices of Jewish life because there is still a barrier of attitude and access.
Judaism recognizes that people can have disabilities that are invisible, including the autism spectrum, learning disabilities, executive functioning disorders and mood disorders. Regardless of whether a disability is visible, Judaism recognizes that each person is unique and that accommodations must be met so that each person can participate in personally meaningful opportunities.
Our Jewish values teach us that each of us is created in God’s image and each of us is to be valued. It is our responsibility that each of our spaces are inclusive and welcoming to all.
As a person with autism, I am already successful and a voice for those with disabilities within the Jewish community.
As a co-chair of BBYO’s All Abilities Inclusion Task Force for this year, I am working hard to create a more inclusive Jewish community and create more accessibility in the world. Coming up next month, we are starting to have monthly “affinity spaces,” which are for BBYO members with disabilities to share personal experiences and stories. We are also planning for Jewish Disability Awareness Month this coming February!
I have always felt accepted and included in BBYO, and I hope the same will happen at the Hillel at my future college.
More can and must be done to build a more inclusive Jewish community. Using “person-first language,” which puts the person before the disability, can really make a difference. When barriers are finally eliminated, many Jews with disabilities will finally feel warm, welcome and have a sense of belonging. Then, all Jews, regardless of ability, will have the meaningful opportunity to participate in the spirit of Judaism.
Perri Schwartz, Atlanta