Community-Wide Special Needs Inclusion – The Beginning of a Process

By: Sharyn J. Gallatin, Esq.


The Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor has convened a group of community leaders to begin a process of developing a community-wide approach to accessibility and inclusion for individuals with special needs and their family members. Representatives from Ann Arbor Jewish congregations, Jewish Family Services, the JCC, Hebrew Day School have met, along with concerned parents, to initiate a discussion and start to think about the many ways in which the Greater Ann Arbor Jewish community can be a more welcoming and inclusive community for all.
Special needs inclusion is an important communal priority, as special needs individuals and their families often feel very isolated and unable to participate fully in Jewish life. For example, special needs individuals and their families often find that they are unable to enjoy events, such as a congregational Family Shabbat, because of the noise level. Sometimes physical barriers prevent full participation in services or programs. Jewish day camp, which can be a transformative Jewish experience for children, is often not an option for those who need services not currently available in order to fully participate.
It is troubling that the very people who would benefit from the support and connection the Jewish community provides often cannot access it. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety for both the individuals with special needs and siblings and family members who may feel that they “lose out” on some of their childhood or communal experiences.
The committee on community-wide inclusion is still in formation and is in the information gathering stage. The aim is to expand the committee to include community members with interest and/or expertise in this area to be a part of the assessment and program development process with the ultimate goal of enabling the Ann Arbor Jewish community be a more inclusive community for all Jews, regardless of need or ability. 
For more information or to get involved, contact Sharyn Gallatin, sharyn@jewishannarbor.org, 734-773-3533.