Seder night is here and you probably know by now who will be attending your seder. But what you might not know is that some of them probably have either visible or invisible disabilities. You may have a child with ADHD who can’t sit still while just one person leads and reads the Haggadah. You may have an adult with dyslexia who has difficulty following along in the Haggadah. You may have a youngest child who is having intense anxiety about saying the Mah Nishtana by themselves. This is a time to think about who may be a guest in your home and how to make your seder more inclusive.
Meredith Englander Polsky, cofounder of the New York disability advocacy organization Matan, says the seder is “the perfect opportunity for inclusion” because it involves multiple senses and learning styles: “taste, touch, acting things out, singing, speaking, and listening.”
Here are some tips/techniques to help make your seder more inclusive:
Give a preview: Explain to children what they will experience before seder night. By discussing what will be, you may be able to see where issues may arise and plan ahead to help avoid them or ameliorate them.
Allow children to be children: Children of all abilities can get bored so engage them in child friendly ways. Use a “seder tracker” so kids can see where we are in the proceedings; Passover toys like plague kits and finger puppets and matza juggling balls can help incorporate child interest in what is going on and combat restlessness at the same time; act out different sections – have them pretend to build pyramids out of pillows, legos, magnatiles, or marshmallows! Or perhaps “paint” the doorways with paintbrush and water to show the Angel of Death which house to pass over!
Haggadahs: Make sure the Haggadahs available are accessible to the people at your seder. Some attendees may do better with more photos or pictures; others may need some with interactive pages. There are many options online or you can download materials from different websites. But by having many choices, you cannot go wrong. Not everyone needs to use a Maxwell House Haggadah!
Slow down: While not everyone has the same needs, slowing down can accommodate many of them. From those who don’t read Hebrew well to those who may sing more slowly to those who may have sensory impairments, slowing down allows everyone to be included.
Make the 4 Sons/Children more nuanced: This is a place where difference can be discussed. Difference can be disability, diversity, mental illness, parenting techniques – it can be and is everything. So talk about what the children represented in the Haggadah mean to you. By talking through what functioning abilities and disabilities can mean through the eyes of the 4 children, we can think more openly about all the children in our community.
And lastly: BE FLEXIBLE! Traditions are important but so is Hachnasat Orchim – welcoming our guests and making sure they are comfortable and content. So that may mean you read a few pages faster so Magid finishes a bit faster or you say mah nishtana all together instead of just the youngest or you have marshmallow and toothpick pyramids everywhere or lots of people use lots of haggadahs. No matter – it is all fine. What matters is your seder will have happy attendees who can’t wait to come back to your inclusive, diverse, welcoming home again next year!
Have a happy and healthy Passover!
Some information here has been adapted from the following sources: