All children of all abilities must have access to Jewish education programs. Shayna Sigman is piloting a program to ensure just that: that all Jewish spaces are welcoming and accessible

Shayna, CSWA, JFCS’ Disability Support Services Manager, is working this fall with two synagogues and the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland to provide trainings for educators about disability accessibility and universal design in classrooms.

At Congregation Beth Israel, Shayna works with Jewish educators for children ages pre-K through 7th grade/children ages 3 through 13.

Universal design is a philosophy and concept that means everything — from a ramp to a classroom to homework options — is conceived with all abilities in mind. Consider the ramp: While it may have been built for someone dependent on crutches or a mobility device, it’s great for all. (Would you rather schlep groceries up steep steps or a ramp?)

In educational settings, universal design can mean purposefully designed quiet spaces, emotionally supportive classroom agreements, or dyslexia-friendly fonts. All children — not solely those, say, with developmental disabilities or on the autism spectrum — benefit. 

“Access for all abilities in the context of educating children in our synagogues means building a space with accessibility in mind, instead of having to create new accommodations for each individual person.”   – Shayna Sigman, CSWA

Throughout the fall, Shayna will lead educators at Congregation Beth Israel and for Congregation Shir Tikvah in best practices for children with disabilities. 

In addition to Shayna’s work with the synagogues, she is helping organize a three-part series through Federation’s Portland Area Jewish Educators (PAJE) group. These will be conducted for educators via Zoom, during October and November, and Shayna herself will be one of the presenters. Stay tuned for details (from JFCS and the Federation) on forthcoming dates, topics and experts.

Said Shayna: “I’m so happy to work with Jewish educators to provide them with best-practices tools on how to create lesson plans and classroom norms that support all students and help them shine.