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New Poll of Faith in the Disability Community Released

New poll on faith in disability community shows:

  • 80% of Evangelicals, 59% of Protestants, 41% of Catholics and 25% of Jews say religion “very important” to their lives
  • Half of Jews surveyed say religion “not very important” in their lives; Jews in disability community much less likely to attend religious services than other faiths

(Washington, D.C.) Faith questions from a groundbreaking new poll of 3839 members of the disability community were released today by RespectAbilityUSA, a non-profit organization working to enable people with disabilities to have the opportunity to achieve the American dream. 

The poll shows that Jews with disabilities and their families are far less engaged in their faith than their counterparts who are Catholic, Protestant or Evangelical. Fully 50% of Jews surveyed answered that religion was “not very important” in their lives.  Indeed, only 25% of the Jews with disabilities and their family members said that religion was “very important” in their life, compared to 41% of Catholics, 59% of Protestants and 80% of Evangelicals. Nearly 40% of Jews in the sample “hardly ever” or “never” attend synagogue.  Fewer Jews attend religious services than any other religious group polled.

More than two-thirds (69%) of people with disabilities (PwDs) surveyed felt that “my disability gave me a challenge and I am more capable because of it,” versus 31 percent who chose, “my disability is a barrier that limits me.”  Friends, family, volunteers and professionals working with PwDs were split 49 percent more capable, 51 percent barrier that limits.  Young PwDs, 18-29 were even more confident with 82 percent responding that they are more capable because of their disability.

In a different study of Jews with disabilities conducted by the same pollsters for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, 46% of Jews with disabilities who attended overnight Jewish summer camp reported that they have been denied access to other Jewish institutions due to their disabilities. Given that most camps don’t yet serve children with significant disabilities in the first place, even more Jewish people with disabilities (JPwDs) have been denied access to Jewish life. “Over the past several years the Foundation for Jewish Camp has made enormous strides to change this dynamic and become more inclusive. While still in the initial stages of this transformation, they have done more than most Jewish institutions to date to systematically become more open to Jews with disabilities,” shared Meagan Buren, Vice President of RespectAbility, who conducted the camp research.

Said RespectAbility’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, “When Jews with disabilities continue to be denied access to Jewish institutions and events, it is no surprise that religion becomes less important to them and their families, and that they attend less frequently.

The recent Pew poll in many ways paints a dismal picture of Jewish communal future – at the same time many passionate Jews (and some in other faith groups) are being turned away from religious institutions based solely on their disabilities. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, it provided religious institutions with an exemption from the law if they did not accept Federal money or services.  Therefore many religious of all faiths have no legal obligation to serve or employ people with disabilities.   This “pass” has hindered the implementation of simple accommodations such as accessible doors and ramps to enable people with disabilities to participate in religious services and programs. “The ADA gave religious institutions an exemption from a legal obligation on basic civil rights, but that does not change what everyone should recognize as their moral, ethical, and religious obligation to do the right thing. It is time people with ALL abilities to have  real participation in all aspects of religious life. Each person with a disability should be able to say, “I am a welcome member of my faith community,” no matter what faith they are.

According to the U.S. Census, roughly 1 out of every 5 Americans has a disability (56 million Americans) and an earlier study released by Laszlo Strategies found that 51% of Americans have a close friend or family member with a disability. Jews carry genetic risks and on average have children later in life than any other demographic group in America.  Because of this, it is likely that Jews have more disabilities per capita than others.

Many faith groups have found ways to welcome and serve people with disabilities and their families. For example, the Church of the Later Day Saints(Mormons) mandated that every one of their 24,000 congregations or institutions must have an inclusion director/coordinator to ensure that PwDs are welcomed. The new Pope has put a renewed focus on including people with disabilities in Catholic life and institutions.

Fully 70% of working age Americans with disabilities are outside the workforce, compared to 28% of people without disabilities. This percentage has been unchanged since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.  This most recent poll from RespectAbility surveyed PwDs on a variety of issues related to how they view themselves, government policies, and employment issues.  There was little measurable difference between how the different religious groups felt about these topics, including Jews.

The survey was fielded online November 6-December 2, 2013.  The poll was completed by 1,969 people with disabilities as well as 1,870 friends, family members, professionals, and volunteers in the disability community. The survey was sent out and posted online by more than a dozen national disability organizations and major leaders. Respondents also were provided the option to take the survey by phone. Included in the sample were 341 people who self-identify as Jewish. The survey was shared via email lists more than a dozen national organizations and leaders in the disability community, as well as on social media. More information about methodology and the full poll results can be found here.

RespectAbility will host a free webinar on February 18th at noon to review poll results and discuss practical steps to build more inclusive faith communities.  Click here to sign-up.

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