In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month we will be sharing some of the amazing work our Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project synagogues are doing in their congregations. At Shaarei Tefillah in Newton, inclusion sheets are handed out each week in shul sharing tips on how to be more welcoming to people of all abilities. Below is an edition of their Inclusion Maven advice column.
Dear Inclusion Maven,
I was heading into the library when I saw a man with a walking cane, the three-pronged kind, carrying a bag of books, heading for the door to go in. I quickly got in front of him and held open the door while he made his way towards it. When he got to the door I immediately took his bag and as he walked in, said I would put the books in the return bin for him. Then I gave him his bag and he thanked me and went into the reading room.
The librarian pulled me aside and gave me a hard time! She said that she could see I meant well, but actually my actions were not thoughtful and embarrassed the man. “Didn’t I see how flustered he looked when I ‘grabbed’ his bag?” I think she is the one who is rude; he even said thank you to me. What is her problem? I didn’t grab, I helped. Like the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.
Your actions, while well intended, violated some of the principles of Inclusion Etiquette. Rushing in front of this man and then so obviously waiting for him to get to the door brought attention that caused him to feel self-conscious as he walked to the door. Taking his bag and assuming he had books to return challenged his sense of autonomy. He is an adult who you should treat with respect, as you would any adult, only he walks with a cane. Next time you might ask, “Can I help you?” Ask first; don’t assume. “Are those books to be returned? If so, I am happy to get them in the bin for you.” The librarian noticed he looked upset and you did not see it. When you are being a busy “do-bee,” remember to check in with the person you are helping.
Think about these principles of IE next time you have the opportunity to help a friend or neighbor.
Got a question for the Inclusion Maven? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.