Limmud for special needs

Since the launch in 2011 of Limmud L’Am at Limmud Conference UK, adults with a variety of learning/developmental disabilities have become a welcome addition to the Limmud community around the world — as presenters, volunteers and participants.

Verbal or nonverbal, walking or in a wheelchair, independent or reliant on others for their support needs — whatever each person’s level of ability, he or she is being welcomed to Limmud. How do we do this?

At the latest Limmud conference in the United Kingdom, a small group of volunteers was tasked with the role of ensuring the site was as accessible as possible. But the real challenge was with the learning. After all, Limmud means, quite literally, learning. How could we make learning events accessible to those who have challenges accessing educational material in the traditional formats? How could we empower them to take one more step on their Jewish journey?

We started by focusing on what people can do rather than what they can’t. We looked for sessions that are already accessible and enjoyable to lots of people — music, crafts, cookery, etc. Because this is Limmud, these classes are also designed to have educational value and Jewish content.

For someone with additional needs, Limmud can sometimes be overwhelming. More and more, we are encouraging presenters to think creatively about making their sessions more accessible — large print, alternative forms of communication, use of new technology, e-mailable content for use on an iPad, handouts in easy-to-read format and so on.

We are just at the beginning of this journey. With time, our goal is that when it comes to Jewish learning, we will leave no Jew behind.

Rachelle, a presenter with special needs, said it best this year: “People with learning or developmental disabilities are just the same as everyone else and should have the same opportunities as everyone else. We should be able to go to Limmud like anyone else, and we should be able to teach people, too. It makes me happy to teach people.”

Shoshana Bloom, an ardent advocate for those with special needs in the Jewish community, serves on the Limmud UK executive committee and has twice co-chaired Limmud Conference.