Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation Inclusive

Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive; Removing the Stumbling Block

Has your community undertaken significant work around diversity and inclusion? Hooray! I have noticed that at times it seems that disability has gotten lost in broader conversations where the focus is on racial equity and/or LGBTQ+. It can seem overwhelming for a community that has not previously made accommodations or sought to fully include individuals with disabilities to tackle this. 

From many years of coaching congregations my advice would be: Start small, but start somewhere. And while this may help to make the task seem somewhat less daunting, I suspect that for many, it begs the question, "How do I begin?"

Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive:

1. Identify the key stakeholders.
Inclusion of people with disabilities is not a one-person job. While one person can light a spark, no one person can change the culture of a community alone. Assemble a core group of professionals and lay people. If you have already assembles a group to focus on DEI/REDI, don't forget about disability in the conversation. Include someone with disabilities or the parent of a child with disabilities who has a vested interest in the growth of your community. Better yet, include both.

2.  Recognize that inclusion is about changing a culture.
Culture change is a process. Recognize that you have embarked on a long-term endeavor (many refer tot his as generational work) and that the process itself can and will be as significant as the destination.

3. Create a vision
While there are many tools to facilitate the visioning process, most synagogues already have a Vision Statement. It is critical that the vision of inclusion is in line with the synagogue's vision, and vice versa. Ensure that the synagogue's vision includes a message of inclusion of people with disabilities.

4. Set Goals
This is an opportunity to dream. Do not engage in discussions of what may or may not be possible at this stage, as you may limit yourself.

5. Identify "low-hanging fruit"
This is about very specific, doable tasks such as adding signage, moving items to be more visible or more easily reached, or other things that might be considered "easy" in your community. Initial success sets the stage to continue the forward momentum. 

6. Share
Let the congregation at large know about your efforts. Changing a culture requires transparency and support; keeping your work a "secret" until a program, event, or significant change is "ready" can be a mistake. Inclusion is not about an isolated program, it is about relationships. Invite others into your conversations.

7. Prioritize Goals
Explore other goals from #4 above and discuss what is realistic and possible in the short-term and what must be tabled for a later point in time. This is most frequently the place where congregations get stuck. Ideally, you will choose 3-5 goals to act upon, but if you must choose only one to enable movement forward, do that.

8. Get Help
If one of your stakeholders is not a professional in the disability world, this is the time to explore bringing in a consultant. I'd be thrilled to coach your community thorough this process, but there may be other within your own community who can help shape this effort. And if one of your stakeholders does not have a disability, here is the place to find someone who can share that perspective. Your goals will help to determine if you should seek an architect, an educator, a lawyer, etc.

9 & 10. Reflect and repeat
Turn your goal into action, build in opportunities for assessment and reflection, share your success, and then do it all again.

Keep at it. Inclusion requires intentionality, dedication and perseverance. It is hard work, but it is work that is important, meaningful and satisfying.

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