The gold standard of captioning is Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART, wherein a live transcriber types what is spoken in real-time. This can be used on any platform. Zoom is screen-reader-accessible, but screen sharing on Zoom is not. RespectAbility events always include CART, even when virtual. This involves utilizing a third-party closed-captioning service. Many companies provide this relatively inexpensive service. There are also in-person CART transcribers.
Automated Speech Recognition captioning services are another option, though not as effective for individuals relying on captioning in order to participate. Zoom, Facebook Live, and YouTube are examples of streaming platforms that allow automated captioning, although they do not caption Hebrew transliteration. To learn more about what each platform accommodates, please view this chart compiled by Connect-Hear.com.
CART, Automated Speech Recognition, and non-embedded captions can be useful for people who are D/deaf/Hard of Hearing, those with learning disabilities, and people whose first language is not English.
American Sign Language (ASL) is not a one-to-one visual depiction of English; rather, it is grammatically distinctive from spoken and written English. ASL is a native language to many, and, therefore, may be preferred above captioning. This may be especially true during interactive discussions, or during events involving complex subject matter, technical terms, and industry-specific terminology, for which captioning would not be suitable.
When using Zoom, ASL interpreters will need log-in information and a link or invitation to the room. Share names of speakers and any PowerPoint presentations ahead of time so the interpreters can become familiar with the materials.
It is important to spotlight ASL interpreters and no one else on screen so viewers can watch the interpreter’s window. Ensure that the meeting or event is set to gallery view. When screen sharing, ensure the video is set to side-by-side view; otherwise, participants will only see the screen shared and the person speaking, but not the ASL interpreter.
Hire the sign language interpreter at least 2 weeks before the event. Confirm that the sign language interpreter is certified and experienced, and let the interpreter know if the event will be shared publicly. Interpreting a live event is labor-intensive and tiring, and it is an industry standard to hire a minimum of two interpreters for any event longer than an hour.
Save front-row seats for both ASL interpreters and people needing translation. Make sure the interpreter is well lit and visible.
Funding CART, ASR, and ASL
A modest financial investment is involved in providing accessibility services. The cost can range from $80-$125 per hour for captioning and $160-$200 per hour for a team of two ASL interpreters. All things considered, this is a relatively small amount of money, and it will enable the full inclusion and participation of many more congregants.
Discuss funding for CART, ASL interpretation, and Automated Screen Recognition with organizational leadership. At the heart of this discussion is the commitment to finding ways for disabled people to belong. Leadership must decide if inclusion of people with disabilities is something they value. Speak to a few key donors willing to make a gift because this will allow others access to Jewish community life.
Some synagogues or organizations may be unable to afford these accommodations. If so, assist congregants to find other synagogues better equipped to provide full accessibility.
Make accessibility a line item in your budget or part of your fundraising goals. This will help remove some cost barriers.
Make your investment in accessibility known. Include accessibility information on your website, newsletters, event promotions and social media. Your accessibility accomplishments are worth celebrating and utilizing!
Reach out to your local Federation to ask if there is funding for ASL and CART services.
Visual T’fila (Prayer)
Visual t’fila has grown in popularity. It is another way for people to access prayers on-screen and to include pictures and videos for the service. Visual t’fila can be displayed on computer screens and monitors. Congregations can create their own visual t’fila in PowerPoint or purchase a package from several Jewish publishers. When creating your slide deck, include slides with the names of people who your congregation is remembering for Misheberakh, Kaddish, and Yahrzeit.
Online Accessibility (Zoom/Live Streaming) and Hybrid Services
Holding hybrid services, in which there are both in-person and live streaming/Zoom options, allows for maximum participation and inclusion. When planning hybrid events and services, think of the in-person and virtual as two different events, ensuring maximum accessibility in each.
“Please Rise” Alternatives
When certain prayers are recited during a service, such as the Amidah (literally “standing prayer”), congregants are invited to stand. Some congregants may not be able to. There are variations on “stand” language, such as instructions to “please rise if (as) you are able” or “please rise in body or in spirit.” These are accepted alternatives.
Your congregation can create language that is respectful and inclusive of all.
Rabbi David Locketz of Bet Shalom Congregation in Minneapolis offered this variation on “stand” language:
“Throughout our service, when our liturgy calls for it, I will be inviting you to rise and stand together as a congregation. If you are not able to rise when the liturgy calls for it, don’t fret. Sit comfortably. Whether you are sitting or standing, your prayers will be accepted all the same. May we together be carried to the great heights that our rituals are intended to take us.”
Guidelines for In-Person Public Gatherings
We have now been living with the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years. While the rest of the world seems to have moved on, disabled people remain vulnerable. It is of utmost importance to protect people with disabilities by maintaining COVID-safe practices during the High Holidays. The U.S. Center for Disease Control’s most recent guidelines do not consider the individuals most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.
To learn more about the perspective of disabled and chronically ill people with lived experience, please view this video:
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For more information, please visit The People’s CDC.
Safety for People with Low-Immune System Functions
Masking of ALL in-person participants with KN95 and above quality masks significantly lowers the chance of a person with low-immune system function–and for whom vaccines may not be effective–contracting the COVID-19 virus. Requiring masks, especially indoors, creates a safer environment for those most at risk. Be sure to provide KN95 masks. Masking is loving your neighbor, and is one of the best ways to protect people with the following conditions (this list is not exhaustive):
- Cerebral Palsy
- Kidney failure
- Heart conditions
- Lung disease
- Liver disease
- Developmental disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Spinal cord injuries
Require proof of vaccination
Vaccinations significantly lower the risk of a deadly COVID-19 infection and protect those around us. Consider requiring proof of vaccination, or, alternately, negative test results for unvaccinated people.
Have congregants arrive 20-30 minutes early to allow time for rapid testing and results.
Ventilation and adequate physical distancing
Choose service spaces that are large enough to accommodate adequate physical distancing. Make sure the space has adequate ventilation, such as air filtration, fans, open doors, and windows to allow cross breeze.
Include outdoor options
Create a viewing and gathering space outdoors, where the virus is less likely to spread. Be sure to include people who choose to participate outdoors as much as possible.
Publicly share what safety measures you are taking.
Amplify safety measures on your website, sharing them before all events and services, and in all email communications.
Neurodivergent people experience and interact with the world around them in a variety of ways. There isn’t a right or wrong way of thinking, learning, and behaving. Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disability and Tourette syndrome are considered neurodivergent. Accessibility supports may vary widely. When a neurodivergent person requests accommodations, have a conversation with them to understand how to support their participation.
Many neurodiverse people are extra sensitive to external stimuli. Excessive sensory input can be overwhelming and exhausting. Overstimulation can occur when the senses take in more information than the brain can process. Provide support by offering a low stimuli “quiet room.” The space should have a low-volume, captioned livestream of the service.
Fragrance and Scent-Free Environments
Ensure a low-scent or scent-free environment in consideration of those with allergies, migraines, MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome), and MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities). This includes telling participants to forgo wearing perfume, lotions, and other fragrances.
Scents can severely affect a person’s health, causing headaches, upper respiratory symptoms, shortness of breath, and difficulty with concentration. People with allergies and asthma report that certain odors, even in small amounts, can cause asthma symptoms.
While your impulse may be to create a “scent-free zone” in your spaces, this does not work for a number of reasons, and is akin to making a “no-smoking section” on an airplane. Scents carry, and the practice segregates those with sensitivities, diminishing inclusion and belonging.
Use scent-free cleaning products in your spaces.
Designate accessible parking spaces with signage and blue stripes. Vehicles that don’t have an accessible placard or designated license plates must never be permitted to park in accessible spots or on the adjacent diagonal stripes. Don’t allow parking in the van accessible spots marked by diagonal stripes.
For many people with disabilities, lack of accessibility to transportation is a barrier. You might arrange rides by offering rides from volunteers in your organization. Be sure that drivers are licensed and insured, and the vehicles are accessible and safe. Another option is for people to use paratransit, a service that is available in major communities. Your organization may want to provide vouchers or reimburse individuals if cost is a barrier.
Greeters and Ushers
Greeters and ushers are often the first contact people have. Educate greeters and ushers on accessibility protocols, including accessible seating for wheelchair users, emergency exits, locations of accessible restrooms, and quiet spaces outside of the sanctuary. Make certain your ushers and greeters use welcoming, respectful, inclusive language. Phrases like “differently abled” and “handicapped” are inappropriate. “Disability” is not a bad word! Do not force assistance upon someone. Gently offer, but if someone declines help, avoid asking “Are you sure?”
Do not allow ushers to remove personal durable medical equipment–such as wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, or canes–away from the user. These mobility devices are bodily extensions crucial to a disabled person’s wellbeing and movement, especially in the event of an emergency.
Make sure exits are clearly marked in case of emergency. Ushers should know all exit locations because they will assist people to find the closest exits. An evacuation plan is crucial. Clergy, ushers and others on staff must be aware of the procedures should an evacuation be necessary.
Many wheelchair users prefer to sit with family and friends, just like anyone else. Too often they are placed in the “wheelchair section,” a location at the front of the sanctuary or in the back. Do all you can to seat people where they want to be seated. Avoid putting wheelchair users in the center and side aisles. This is unsafe and can feel very uncomfortable.
Tips for Improving the Accessibility of Your Community
- A number of companies rent and install temporary small ramps. While not a permanent solution, it’s important to include access requirements in your budget. Make sure elevators are in working order and available for use. Include the location of elevators in service handouts and announcements during the event.
- Pathways should be free from obstructions with wide doorways and wide aisles to accommodate those who use wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, and scooters as ambulatory devices.
- Make sure floors are clean and dry, as water, leaves, dust, and paper can make surfaces slippery.
- Make sure there are spaces for wheelchair users to sit and participate. This may include pew cuts or spaces between chairs designated for wheelchairs users.
- Everyone should be able to use the restroom! Gender-neutral restrooms should also be accessible.
- Install ramps to the bimah. Invite all people to access the bimah using the ramp.
- If a ramp isn’t available, move the presenters to the floor level. An architect table is a low-cost way to ensure access for Torah readers and service participants who use mobility devices.
A service animal is usually a dog that is specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals perform some of the things that the individual with a disability cannot perform for themselves. The most familiar type of service animal is a guide dog who may assist a blind person. Service animals are trained to assist people with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities as well.
A working service animal wears an identifying vest or collar. They are not pets and petting or feeding can distract them from their job of supporting the person for whom they work.
A service animal makes it possible for someone with a disability to participate in services and other opportunities available in your congregation. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of their owner. You are not required to provide care, food, or a special location for the animal. Do not pet or interact with service animals while they are working or without the owner’s permission.
Consider signage such as, “No pets allowed. Service animals are welcome.” If there are halachic considerations around service animals in the shul, ask your local rabbi if you have concerns.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, commented when asked, “What is the answer to the question of allowing guide and service dogs into the synagogue when they provide the necessary and highly skilled support for an individual with a disability or health condition?”
The Rebbe wrote, “If it is important for [the person] to attend Shul, then we must obviously look for ways to enable this.”
According to an article on Chabad.org, The Rebbe uses the words “important for” at the end of his letter. If attending the synagogue is important to an individual, whether they require a guide or service dog or another kind of accommodation, it is the responsibility of the community to embrace that person. Inclusion of a disabled person is just as important for the synagogue community as it is for the disabled individual. The Rebbe’s final word on permitting the accompaniment of guide and service dogs reminds us that v’ahavta lereiacha kamocha–to love your fellow Jew like yourself–is at the heart of how we treat others.
Childcare During Events – Accommodations
Many congregations provide childcare while parents attend an event. Registration forms for childcare must ask parents to include information that will create a positive experience for all children. You might include:
- What will help your child manage separation?
- What are your child’s favorite playtime activities?
- Does your child like to play independently or with other children?
- If your child has allergies, what should we avoid?
- Are there foods and/or beverages to avoid for snacks?
Share this information with childcare staff. Adult staff should be familiar with working with children with disabilities.
If a child has accommodation needs that can’t be provided, let the parents know as soon as possible. They may be able to provide needed supports or plan for other childcare. There are likely times you will not be able to honor all requests. Be honest with parents about what you can and cannot do.