Skip Navigation
Image of people smiling and posing for a photo

Faith Inclusion

Mentoring Students with Disabilities

Gabriella Helkowski headshot

Gabriella Helkowski

Being mentored as a student with a disability and mentoring students with disabilities has changed my life. I have always been the student with the learning disabilities and the one being helped when I struggled with various schoolwork and activities. I always wanted to have the same experiences as my classmates and mentors helped me be included. As a mentor to students with disabilities, I was able to help others be included, too.

In second grade, my classmates and I had to read an autobiography dressed up as our historical figure. Mine was Helen Keller. Parents came and watched our 3-minute talks. I was so anxious as I struggled to read and speak clearly during my presentation. My learning support teacher, Mrs. Lindenfelser, made sure that I would be able to be part of this important second grade event. Every day she set aside time to read with me —as painful as it was—and ensured that I understood. At the end of the book, we wrote and practiced what I was going to say about Helen Keller. That day I felt equal to my peers, a feeling that I had not felt before. [continue reading…]

Living and Learning a Language

Riccardo Ricciardi smiling headshotAfter two years of studying Hebrew, Jewish history, rituals, Torah, and Haftorah readings, the day I yearned for had finally arrived. I was invited to go to the bima (the raised platform in the synagogue from which the Torah is read and services led) to read the Torah for the first time…as an adult Bar Mitzvah. I got up from the pew and walked with the solemnity of a monarch, all regal. My kippah (the cap worn to fulfill the customary requirement that the head be covered) was my crown, my yad was my scepter, and my tallit (a fringed garment worn as a prayer shawl) was my coronation mantle.

“Queen Elizabeth, eat your heart out!”

When I got to the bima, the scroll was opened. I placed the tip of the yad on the passage. I did more than just read. I chanted every word like a Greek poet. I radiated. As I returned to my pew, people from both sides of the aisle stretched out their hands. [continue reading…]

The Annual September Letter to Teachers

Shelly Christensen smiling headshot

Shelly Christensen

Every September, I wrote a letter to our son Jacob’s teachers. I came across this letter while searching for something else in my overcrowded computer files and I’m glad I did. While Jacob is years past high school, past college, and is working in the IT sector, the letter stands the test of time.

As parents, we know a great deal about those young people who live with us around the clock. I began writing letters to teachers in middle and high school to introduce them to Jacob. Teachers were grateful for the introductions that helped smooth the path toward a good teacher-student-parent relationship. [continue reading…]

Ableism in Physical Education

McKenzie Stribich smiling headshot

McKenzie Stribich

As a disabled and neurodivergent student who grew up going to small Christian schools ill-equipped to serve students with disabilities, there are probably many ways in which I wasn’t given the accommodations I needed to excel—accommodations that may well have been met in other local schools. One that comes especially to mind is the realm of physical education (PE).

The first painful memory occurred in third grade. Standing and turning the jump rope for one of my peers, I was suddenly approached by the PE teacher, who told me in certain terms that I couldn’t participate in that activity anymore—her reason being it wasn’t safe. I remember being sidelined on the bench while doing my best to hide my tears from the teacher sitting next to me. [continue reading…]

Tamar Davis on Community Inclusion Engagement

Tamar Davis smiling headshot

Tamar Davis

There is a verse that is often quoted by Jewish educators from Proverbs (22:6) which states, “Teach a child according to his way.” This verse reflects the Jewish belief that every child should be educated and raised according to their way. While many schools and various educational settings strive to create inclusive environments, how should we as a community be advocating for, advancing, and supporting inclusion in our children’s educational ecosystems?

This question is quite personal. My parents had to advocate for their children with disabilities, and now I am an adult who has to advocate for myself and for my child with a disability. For my parents, one of the challenges they faced was figuring out how to fulfill their wish of enrolling me in a Jewish day school without compromising my hearing and speech development. For the first few years of my life, I attended a public school for the hearing-impaired and deaf, and my parents supplemented my Jewish education at home. Then my parents “mainstreamed” me in a Jewish day school and took me to the local public school to access the services we needed in order to continue my development.

Now, especially since I became CEO of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education in 2020, all I think about is inclusion in Jewish educational settings and what this means on a practical level. The phrase, “inclusion in Jewish educational settings,” can represent different paths that a family might take for a child to feel a true sense of belonging in Jewish life and learning. At Gateways, inclusion is about being able to have a choice. There are different options for children with disabilities, diverse learning needs, and mental health challenges. Some options might be for students who are in Jewish day schools and need additional support to succeed in the classroom, which we make possible by having therapists in day schools in the Greater Boston area. Other options might include enrolling in a program such as our Sunday and B’nei Mitzvah programs, where the goal is for students to learn about their Jewish heritage and traditions and be able to participate in their synagogue or community’s activities and services. There are many factors that can go into this kind of decision, and every family should be able to have all of the options to consider when determining what’s best for their child.

So how can we ALL be advocates of inclusion for children with disabilities in our communities and educational settings? We must be in partnership with one another, not just families and individuals with disabilities, but the entire community together. This includes our community leaders in our schools, synagogues, or any communal space we find ourselves in, our families and individuals who aren’t directly affected by disabilities, and our educators who are creating educational environments that children can access. Because, as that other famed verse from the Talmud (Shevuat 39a) states, “All of Israel is responsible for each other.”

Learn More about Tamar Davis at the Gateways: Access to Jewish Education website

Shifting Attitudes and Making Change at St. Luke’s

McKenzie Stribich smiling headshot

McKenzie Stribich

Over the last few years, I have done much-needed advocacy work for disabled people at my church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach, a place whose people I love with all my heart. It is work I do out of love, both because I want my parish to be the welcoming place I know it to be myself, and because I understand the pain of exclusion. Throughout my advocacy work, I’ve told many personal stories to convey how dire it is that we make our faith spaces accessible. The following story is one I recently sent to my priests about how the lack of accessibility in the evangelical church in which I grew up negatively impacted me.

When I was a child and had surgery that landed me in a wheelchair during recovery, I couldn’t attend Sunday school with the children my age because the room for my grade was upstairs and the church had no elevator. And so, I attended Sunday school with the grade above me because their classroom was downstairs. For the next few years, I moved from grade to grade with the older kids. [continue reading…]

Inaccessibility at Anime Expo

Leah Ilana Craig headshot

Leah Ilana Craig

On a bright and sunny July morning, I walked with my cane along the side of the Los Angeles Convention Center. With my head held high in my heavy blue wig, I got ready to join thousands of con attendees at Anime Expo (AX). It was my only day at AX, one of the busiest anime conventions, and I was excited. I often cosplay characters that I identify with, and on this day, I chose to be Jinx from Arcane: League of Legends because there was an Arcane/League of Legends community meet-up scheduled at the con. I love to transform into my favorite characters and show that people with disabilities deserve to hold space in the cosplay community.

As I approached the building, I noticed the regular entrance for AX snaked around the building and I knew that there was no way I could stand in that line without fainting. Luckily, clear signs made the accessible entrance easy to find, which was great because I was already experiencing Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) symptoms from putting together all the makeup and accessories I needed for Jinx. However, when I approached the security team, I found myself in a snafu. [continue reading…]

Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Look Out the Window!

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8.

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg at the 2017 Tzedek dinner for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Consultation on Conscience. Photo by Ralph Alswang, courtesy of Rabbi Landsberg and the Religious Action Center.

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg at the 2017 Tzedek dinner for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Consultation on Conscience. Photo by Ralph Alswang, courtesy of Rabbi Landsberg and the Religious Action Center.

The Talmud [Berachot 34b] teaches that one must pray in a house with windows so they can see the heavens and focus their heart. Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, of blessed memory, was the Senior Advisor on Disability Rights at the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC). As a passionate advocate for disability rights, she wrote, “the Talmud teaches us that a synagogue must be built with windows in the sanctuary. I believe this is so we can see who is outside and unable to join us.”

Thirty-two years ago, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is a comprehensive federal civil rights statute that protects the rights of people with disabilities, entitling over 56 million Americans with disabilities to equal opportunities as full citizens of the United States. The ADA is landmark legislation for many people who, prior to its passage, couldn’t cross the street in their wheelchair, use the restroom in public buildings, or ride public transportation.

Faith institutions are covered by Title I employment regulations in the case of organizations with 15 or more employees. They are also covered by Title III if space is rented to an outside organization, such as a daycare that is not owned or operated in any way by the faith organization. But other than with these two cases, faith institutions are exempted from the ADA. [continue reading…]

32 Years After the ADA, People with Disabilities Still Are Left Behind in Faith Institutions

An African American woman in a wheelchair looking up a flight of stairsJuly is Disability Pride Month. It commemorates the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990. The ADA is a milestone civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. However, mosques, synagogues, churches, and other religious institutions are largely exempt from ADA regulations.

Courts have upheld this exemption because requiring religious institutions to follow ADA regulations and allowing the government to take enforcement action against them could go against the First Amendment. Exempting religious organizations from the ADA’s equal access standards allows them to erect structures and deliver activities according to their religious convictions. Unfortunately, this means disabled people can be denied accommodations such as curb cuts, special parking spaces, ramps, elevators, just to name a few.

We invited two people with disabilities to describe the consequences of the ADA’s exemption for religious organizations and the exemption’s impact on their lives, the lives of others, and their communities. [continue reading…]

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 28 29
Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.

Contact Us

Mailing Address:
43 Town & Country Drive
Suite 119-181
Fredericksburg, VA 22405

Office Number: 202-517-6272


GuideStar Platinum

RespectAbility and The RespectAbility Report is a GuideStar Platinum Participant. Guidestar Platinum Seal
© 2023 RespectAbility. All Rights Reserved. Site Design by Cool Gray Seven   |   Site Development by Web Symphonies   |      Sitemap

Back to Top

Translate »