‘Disabled US Jews twice as likely to live in poverty’ - new report

A RespectAbility survey identified substantially higher poverty rates among those with disabilities, in spite of high levels of education and a strong desire to work on the part of this community.

Man in wheelchair, illustrative (photo credit: PICKPIK)
Man in wheelchair, illustrative
(photo credit: PICKPIK)

A comprehensive survey released Wednesday of 2,321 Jews asked about disability issues showed progress on some fronts but huge challenges on others.

The survey was carried out by RespectAbility, a US nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of the community.

On the positive side, it demonstrated that Jewish communal organizations are making steady advances toward building a more inclusive community for people with physical, sensory, mental health and other disabilities.

At the same time, the survey identified substantially higher poverty rates among those with disabilities, in spite of high levels of education and a strong desire to work on the part of this community.

The new study showed that 65% of respondents felt the Jewish community was better at including people with disabilities compared to five years ago. Only 1% felt the community was doing worse.

 Orthodox Jews in New York (credit: REUTERS/CAITLIN OCHS) Orthodox Jews in New York (credit: REUTERS/CAITLIN OCHS)

“More and more Jewish institutions now understand that we are a stronger community when we are welcoming, diverse, and respect one another,” said RespectAbility founder Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who is dyslexic, has ADHD and knows what it means to parent a child with multiple disabilities.

But the income gaps among disabled and nondisabled were pronounced. While many respondents preferred not to answer income level, among those who did, there were significant differences between those with and without a disability at the highest and lowest ranges of income.

Fully 26% of disabled Jews reported income under $49,999 compared to just 8% of people without a disability. Only 6% of people with disabilities reported income of more than $200,000, compared to 17% of people without a disability.

This gap in income level is especially notable as the education levels reported by the respondents do not show significant differences between disabled individuals and the wider community.

When asked the question, “Overall, how well is the Jewish community doing at including people with disabilities in synagogues, Jewish organizations, and communal activities?” 31% of respondents answered, “Extremely or very well.”

This is up 13% from 2018 among the total community, and 10% among people with disabilities.

Additionally, 41% felt the Jewish community was doing “somewhat well.”

When asked, “In the faith-based institutions and groups that you are active in, do you feel that people with disabilities are included? (i.e., social activities, men’s clubs/sisterhoods, youth groups)?” 37% answered “Yes,” with an additional 42% responding, “Sometimes.”

But one in five people with disabilities noted they or another disabled individual in their household have been “turned away from an activity at an organization in [their] faith community because of its inability or unwillingness to make a reasonable accommodation.”

While 21% of respondents said synagogues had the most access, 18% said synagogues had the most challenges.

The surge in the use of virtual formats in response to the COVID-19 pandemic increased the ability of 73% of disabled individuals to access their faith community.

Fifty-seven percent said that their faith organizations have made commitments to “diversity, equity and inclusion”; and among those, 88% included disability as part of their diversity.

Only one in five respondents said they knew “any clergy or staff with disabilities” at their own institutions, but this represented an increase of more than 50%. Only 15% felt that “people with disabilities are encouraged to serve on boards and committees,” with an additional 22% responding “sometimes.”

This study is being co-released with new data from Leading Edge’s 2021 Employee Experience Survey, whose designers sought input from RespectAbility.

The Leading Edge survey tracked employees with disabilities for the first time. That study, to which 11,613 employees of Jewish organizations responded, found a disability employment rate of more than 7%, meaning Jewish organizations have reached the employment goal set by the federal government for federal contractors, when the majority of federal contractors have not, noted RespectAbility.

The Leading Edge survey also found that 62% of the 853 respondents who identified as having a disability were under the age of 39, with more than 30% still in their 20s. This means the Jewish sector is a strong employer of young adults with disabilities.