Why Are Synagogues Exempt from Accommodating Disability?

December 17, 2020

by Rabbi Dov Linzer for NY Jewish Week

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a seminal piece of legislation which protects people with disabilities from discrimination.

Significantly, discrimination is not limited to acts of commission; it includes acts of omission as well. According to the ADA, a bus company or restaurant that does not allow for access for people in wheelchairs is discriminating against them.

Why discriminating? Because providing accommodations is not something “nice” that we do for people with disabilities. Every person is entitled to the same dignity and has the same rights as everyone else. These include the right to education, to equal access to public goods and services, to equal access to places of employment, and to fair and equal treatment in the workplace.

The same is true when we frame it in terms of needs. A person in a wheelchair does not have different needs —  a ramp — than one who is not. The need — to have access to the building — is the same from person to person. It is the accommodations that might differ.

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