United Synagogue’s new guidebook will open doors for people with disabilities

The booklet includes brand new symbols of accessibility features such as Shabbat lifts


Symbols for a Shabbat lift in the United Synagogue's new accessibility guide. (Photo: Tatiana von Beelen)

For disabled and neuro-diverse people synagogue buildings can offer huge challenges, whether in the shape of a flight of stairs or a noisy room. 

Now the United Synagogue is hoping to enable even more of the community, to use its shuls, community groups and nurseries with the publication of a new accessibility guidebook.

The book, believed to be the first of its kind in the Jewish community and possibly of any faith community in the UK, has a key of symbols for features such as a Shabbat lift, a wheelchair ramp to the bimah and a quiet space.

It works in conjunction with the United Synagogue’s website so members can see which synagogue buildings offer accessibility features.

“We want to ensure that every member of our community, no matter their accessibility needs, has the information they need to alleviate any anxiety that may come with attending shul,” said Daniella Neifeld, the United Synagogue’s community participation manager who developed the guide.

This was a passion project for Neifeld, who described a “rollercoaster of emotions” in the four months the team spent working on the access guide.

“One of my roles is inclusion,” she explained, “which is so, so broad, and includes so many different types of people. The more I got into accessibility, the more I realised this needed to be done”.

The symbols used in the guide were a project in and of themselves, said Tatiana von Beelen, the US’ senior graphic designer, who was responsible for conceiving them. When she started designing the access symbols, she said she was surprised by the fact that this initiative is the first of its kind.

“I think we’re seeing things really change in regard to inclusivity, and I’m really happy about that, ” she said. 

The project was close to her heart. “I have a family member with a disability and so it was very important to me,” she said.

The accessibility initiative has been welcomed by members. Jeremy Freeman from Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue said: “I am pleased to see [the US] pushing accessibility to the forefront of their agenda. It’s so important that the organisation recognises the need to significantly improve inclusivity for those with physical or hidden disabilities.

“As someone profoundly deaf, I have often felt excluded, leading to my decreased attendance at services and events. I am hopeful that the forthcoming changes will create a much more inclusive environment, allowing everyone the opportunity to fully participate in community life."

For information on the accessibility symbols set, click here and for accessibility information on synagogues, click here

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