By Marla Borkson, MHWOW Host

Welcome to a new decade, fellow Moishe House community builders! I am delighted to be able to write the first introduction for the new year. A new year can mean many things to different people: a fresh start, anticipation for a celebration, or a time to make a resolution or accomplish a feat. For me, a new year is a time and space to pause and reflect. How did I do last year? What can I do better this year?

Moishe House gives us the unique opportunity to create our own communities. We can host Shabbat, go to plays and movies or bring in educators, but are we including everyone? Often times, our events are unintentionally exclusive to some members of our communities. This year, I plan to focus on disability inclusion. Our communities are incredibly diverse, and it is important to remember that not all disabilities are visible. You cannot “see” diabetes, autoimmune diseases, or bipolar disorder. Community members at your events may choose to self-identify as a person with a disability while others may prefer to keep their health private. One of my goals this year is to create a more physically and mentally inclusive space for all of my guests when I host.  

I plan to take small actions to ensure I can include everyone in the events that I host. If a community member trusts me and reaches out with accommodation requests, I will do my best to meet their needs. When I post my event on social media, I plan to include an ADA disclaimer with information on who to contact for reasonable accommodations. When I host an event in my home, I will let guests know if the space is wheelchair accessible. When I hand out paper information, I will ensure there are large font options and someone reading the material out loud. If my event will offer food, I will make sure there are a variety of options for different dietary restrictions.

These are all small examples of simple actions that can be done to ensure everyone can actively participate in events. I challenge you, in 2020, to make your events more physically and mentally inclusive with me. In this newsletter, I’ve worked with the Moishe House staff on providing additional information to help you on this mission. Ensure that everyone can join your events and be apart of your wonderful communities. Cheers to 2020, and I hope you all have a fantastic new year! 

Guide to Accommodations

by Marla Borkson, MHWOW Host with contributions by Molly Cram, Moishe House Director of House Programs

Marla Borkson, Challah Baking, 2019

How many folks have disabilities? 

It is estimated that 20% of any given population has a disability.

This means that 20% of Jewish young adults in your community have a disability, either visible/apparent or invisible/non-apparent.

What do we mean by “disability”?

An individual meets the ADA definition of “disability” that would qualify them for reasonable accommodation if they have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) 10 most common disabilities include: back/spinal injuries, psychiatric/mental impairments, neurological impairments, extremities, heart impairments, substance abuse, diabetes, hearing impairments, vision impairments, and blood disorders. 

Folks might have a visible/apparent disability such as use a manual or motorized wheelchair or an invisible/non apparent disability such as an autoimmune disorder.

Hold up, what is the ADA? 

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) is a Federal Civil Rights law that protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrminiation and provides for equal access and opportunity in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

Each country has its own standards of accessibility for persons with disabilities. Check out this resource from DREDF (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund) on international disability rights laws and read more on the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) here

What is a “reasonable accommodation”?

A reasonable accommodation is assistance that will help someone with a disability fully participate. This often refers to employment but also applies to Moishe House!

What can a reasonable accommodation look like at Moishe House? 

  • Wheelchair accessible entrances to houses or outside events 
  • A sign language interpreter
  • Special seating at events
  • Reserved parking at a house or event
  • A registered service animal to accompany an individual
  • A film with closed captioning 
  • Handouts with large font
  • Food meeting various dietary requirements 
  • A quiet space 

10 Actions you can take RIGHT NOW! 

1. Provide ample information in advance so people can plan their participation, including what the layout of the event space looks like, what the event itinerary entails and other relevant information that may be helpful for a community member to determine what they may need.

2. Put a standard “accessibility contact statement” on your facebook events and in your newsletter.

Example: “If you have a disability and require an accommodation to participate in this event, please make your request by contacting Jane Doe at 555-555-5555 or jane@gmail.com. Please make your request by (specific date) to allow sufficient time to secure the requested accommodations.” 

3. Educate yourself on ADA law or laws relevant to your country.

4. Be aware that some disabilities are invisible/non apparent.

5. Understand the difference between physical and emotional inclusive spaces and ensure that community members are given the same access to participating in events together.

Just because something is physically accessible does not necessarily make it an inclusive space for an individual with a disability. For example, if chairs are set up at a high top table but a wheelchair user is seated at a lower table in the corner, this would not be a fully inclusive space. We encourage folks to take a holistic approach when thinking about accommodations. When in doubt, ask your community member what accommodation is best!

6. Respect people’s independence.

7. Know resources in your area (ADA National Network: www.adata.org).

8. Check event venues in advance to understand the space. 

9. Be aware of your specific community and their potential needs. 

10. If you are unsure about what someone might need, ask them! 

Thank you for all you do to build Jewish community for all Jewish young adults, including individuals with disabilities. Want to chat about this more? Email Molly at molly@moishehouse.org