by Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director
If you’ll indulge me, I’d like you to take a minute and think about the different communities in which you participate. Consider your book group, your synagogue, your kid’s school. Think about your role as an organization’s board member, your work environment, or the class you take on Tuesday nights.
Choose one of those groups and reflect on the dynamics that make it what it is: the people, the space, the handouts, the group’s purpose.
Got it all in your head?
Now, imagine your group has just grown by one member; we’ll call her Sarah. She’ll be joining you next week, and she’s got a disability. Maybe she’s deaf. Or perhaps she uses a wheelchair. She may be on the Autism spectrum. Will you be ready for her? How will your members welcome her to participate? Can she get into the building? Will she feel like an outsider once she’s there?
More than likely, there is something you’ve discovered through this hypothetical activity that is less than ideal. Let me be clear: that’s okay. Really. None of our schools, synagogues, camps, or mikvehs are perfect when it comes to inclusion. But that’s just the point. We always have the opportunity to reflect on what’s working and what could be better. As long as we are on a path to improvement and we’re committed to making things better tomorrow than they are today, we’re moving in the right direction.
Of course, that task is sometimes easier said than done. The issues are complex and it may be hard to know how to make change. Here’s the good news: you’re not on your own.
In late February 2016, in honor of Jewish Disability and Inclusion Awareness Month, Mayyim Hayyim is launching a Discussion Guide to complement our Open Waters: Mikveh for Everybody film. Created in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, this resource will serve as a tool to bring to your synagogue, board, camp, or school, to launch meaningful conversations about what inclusion and access looks like in your community.
At Mayyim Hayyim, we know just how many barriers exist to prevent full inclusion of people with disabilities. We’ve grappled with a number of them ourselves over the years. We’re proud of the success we’ve achieved knowing that the mikveh seemingly could not have more barriers to participation, even for the able-bodied. This discussion guide can be used in all kinds of settings and will serve as a jumping off point to assess what’s working and what could be better, inviting your group to make a plan for how to get there.
I encourage you to bring this guide to any of your communities, knowing that simply by having the conversation, your group will be more welcoming for people like Sarah, even before she tries to pave the way on her own.
To make sure you receive information about Mayyim Hayyim’s inclusion Discussion Guide once we launch it later this month, join our mailing list or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Executive Director.