Planting the seeds of inclusivity

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Planting the seeds of inclusivity

The Jewish Deaf Association is focusing on raising awareness as hearing loss is on the rise

Louisa Walters is Features Editor at the Jewish News and specialises in food and travel writing

Testing the Mino amplification system
Testing the Mino amplification system

What a time it is for Deaf Awareness! Rose Ayling-Ellis won Strictly Come Dancing and a BAFTA, Troy Kotsur picked up the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for CODA and the British Sign Language (BSL) bill was passed recently, making BSL a legally recognised language of the UK.

Deaf people have never been so visible on our screens. But there is still so much work to be done. The Jewish Deaf Association’s vision is of a world where there are no barriers to communication and understanding between deaf and hearing people; a world with respect, inclusion and equality.

Hearing loss is on the rise. One in six people in the UK now have hearing loss. So, as JDA marks its 70th anniversary together with Her Majesty the Queen now is the right time for us to start making that vision a reality within our own community.

How can we enable people with hearing loss, who communicate using speech, to not feel marginalised? To be fully included in family, social and communal gatherings? To be actively involved in synagogue services and community life?

Last week was Deaf Awareness Week and JDA launched a publicity campaign drip feeding top tips for chatting with someone with hearing loss. To start raising awareness and start taking the small steps that will bring about change, JDA is also asking people connected with Jewish communal organisations to follow the Jewish Deaf Association on social media, share posts with community leaders and get the conversation started in their organisation about how we can all enable people with hearing loss to be fully and actively involved in our community.

Stella makes hamotzi with the words transcribed on a screen behind her

JDA is keen to make synagogues and community centres accessible for people with hearing loss. Jeremy Freeman, who is deaf, says “Sitting through services can feel long, arduous, and not so interactive for many shul goers with a hearing loss. At this time, synagogues are reimagining the way synagogue services are presented and focusing on inclusion and involvement in community life. This is a perfect opportunity to involve members with hearing loss and other invisible disabilities in the conversation – and to consult with the Jewish Deaf Association to find ways of creating greater access for people with hearing loss.”

Sadly, over the years, deaf and deafened members have walked away from the Jewish community frustrated with the lack of support and acknowledgment of issues. One JDA client said they feel hearing loss has been treated as ‘taboo’. It is uplifting that the Jewish Deaf Association is addressing this as there are ways that accessibility can be improved which don’t break the rules of Shabbat, such as ensuring that deaf synagogue members receive an advance copy of the Rabbi’s sermon – even in note form. Another simple thing is to include live captioning on community webinars and online videos. Our tradition encourages us all to learn, to gather together in community, and to allow for accommodations to make that happen.

Michael blows the shofar with his hands on Barry to convey sound through touch

“The Talmud, in discussing the domino effect of sin, concludes with phrase kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other,” says Jeremy. “This phrase is the basis of the notion of communal responsibility in Jewish law. It implies an obligation on all Jews to ensure that other Jews have their basic needs taken care of. Let’s work together to ensure that we approach hearing loss and other disabilities not as a form of charity for the less fortunate but as a Jewish justice and inclusion issue.”

For more information about making your synagogues accessible and inclusive for people with hearing loss, email

020 8446 0502


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