Jews have been celebrating JDAIM in February for the past ten years. It’s a yearly reminder that we want our synagogues to be, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “a house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:7)
I’ve been observing JDAIM this year by dealing with a bunch of disability challenges.
Disability is a tricky topic. It’s very tempting to climb on the “heroic crip” bandwagon, to tell inspiring stories and post a bunch of rah-rah stuff. However, that isn’t about the real lives and real situations of Jews with disability.
The fantasy: I’ve got my scooter, I can go pretty much anywhere, and life is always good. See the rabbi drive up, get out her scoot, and go!
The reality, lately: Can’t sit comfortably in the car. Can’t lift the scooter. Chronic back pain, sciatica, and fatigue are kicking my tuches. Sitting too long at the computer makes everything worse. My 50% hearing is now down to somewhere less than that, but the auditory processing disorder still makes hearing aids a bad idea.
So here are my awareness and inclusion messages. They are phrased as mine, but they apply to many other persons with disabilities, as well:
- God bless my congregation for offering streaming Shabbat services over Facebook. I can “attend” even when I can’t attend in person. It isn’t as good, but it is so much better than sitting home wishing I could be there.
- If I ask you to repeat something once or twice or even a third time, do just that: repeat it. Don’t restate it, just say exactly what you said but a bit louder, or or a bit clearer, or take your hand away from your mouth.
- If I get to an event, please don’t tell me that I look like I’m “doing better” and ask when I’ll be healed. I am having a good day, but I am unlikely to be healed. And actually, I’m OK just as I am.
- Don’t abuse “handicap” parking spaces. Don’t use them unless you have a blue card and please don’t crowd them. Don’t park in the loading area next to them, because then some of us can’t get out of the car.
- If someone displays the blue card to use those parking spaces, just assume they need it, even if they don’t look it. Many disabilities are invisible.
- Please don’t give medical advice or ask nosy medical questions unless you are my doctor. Really. Even if you are sure you have the cure.
- Do not improvise “helping” me. Ask me if I need help with something, then believe what I tell you.
- Yes, I am at “child height” when I’m on the scooter. That is not an invitation to pat my head or adjust my clothing for me. When people do those things, I spend energy being annoyed that could go to many better uses.
- Encourage your congregation to stream services and do other things to make services more accessible to everyone. Is the building accessible? Is there a procedure for making accessibility requests?
- Remember that we’re all in this together. There have been Jews with disabilities since the very beginning. The patriarch Isaac was seeing-impaired. Jacob had a limp. Moses had issues with speech. King Saul had bipolar disorder. Stuff happens. What matters is how we deal with it.