How We Can Create Equal Opportunities for Deaf, Hard of Hearing People


This is part of a series of essays in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month.

“There is nothing as good in all the world as listening.” (Orchot Tzadikim Chapter 13:26)

How do I know when someone is really listening? Is it by their immediate reaction or some form of an acknowledgment? Is it by an action that will occur at a later time? The answers remain unknown. 

When one is truly not listening, the connection potentially disappears and leaves the other person feeling undervalued, which has happened often especially within the Jewish Deaf community. As expected, we do not always know if a person or a group has actually heard the message that was intended by the speaker until actual results are revealed.

One actual result after so many attempts is the use of technology to create a wider bridge of accessibility and connection between the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community and the general population. Recently, real time captioning has opened a door for many of us and it has allowed for some of us to fully participate in various Jewish events.

Four years ago, the Union of Reform Judaism Biennial conferences had offered an option to use real time captioning for people to follow the plenaries and keynote speakers. The real time captioning not only benefitted the deaf people that were in attendance, but also many hard of hearing people who generally face difficulty hearing in a large setting. It was a plus benefit that encouraged more people to participate. ASL interpreters were also provided upon request. 

More and more, different communities in the Jewish world are stepping up to ensure all people, including Deaf/Hard of Hearing people, receive equal opportunities. For instance, there was a recent Chabad Lubavitch rabbis’ gathering that provided real time captioning for its participants. Various Jewish organizations are now offering webinars providing real time captioning as it is really a matter of utilizing the advanced technology that currently exists today. 

This bridge of accessibility is widening, however there is a need to understand as to what still remains a challenge from a Jewish Deaf perspective. Being Jewish is a genuine way to connect whereas in the Deaf community—Jewish or not—the most important goal is to be with other Deaf people. The Deaf community has thrived in all ways possible for centuries. Pride and connection are both crucial to survival today. 

There are several small Jewish Deaf communities throughout the country that have been in existence for many years. These communities need ongoing support and the answer is not only accommodations, but also acceptance and relationships. We must continue to listen and be present with our eyes and ears to embrace every person as to where they want to belong.

Rabbi Rebecca L. Dubowe serves as the rabbi for Moses Montefiore Congregation in Bloomington, Illinois. She was the first female deaf rabbi ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. An inclusion advocate, she speaks often on the subject of inclusion and acceptance of families with special needs, especially within the Reform Movement and the Jewish community-at-large.