The strength and richness of a community are associated with diversity and social inclusion at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (the JCC). Recently, the JCC renewed a commitment to ensure full participation of people with disabilities – including mental health disabilities – in all of the community centre’s recreational, educational, and arts and cultural programs.
The JCC’s commitment started with a formal community needs assessment that identified accessibility for people with disabilities as a priority. With the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an Accessibility and Inclusion Advisory Committee was formed and a management role focused on Accessibility and Inclusion was created. Liviya Mendelsohn, the Manager of Accessibility and Inclusion at the JCC, describes the community centre’s accessibility journey as an evolving process. While staff initially had concerns that accessibility and accommodations could be resource intensive, they quickly saw otherwise.
There are many ways that the JCC embeds mental health accessibility across the community centre. As an overall approach, the JCC tries to learn from every individual disability accommodation and apply those learnings proactively to make the centre more inclusive to others. Staff received training about mental health using an interactive and scenario-based approach in order to learn how to identify and respond to potential triggers, maintain confidentiality about disability-related matters, and increase support for program participants.
Recognizing the episodic nature of mental health disabilities, the community centre gives all members the choice to pause memberships. Recognizing that some people with disabilities are able to participate in activities at different times of day – for example, due to effects of medication, travel restrictions, or other commitments – programs and classes are intentionally scheduled with duplicate classes offered at different times of the day. Members have the choice to participate in activities individually, with a peer support volunteer, or in a group setting. Service animals and support people are welcomed and support people do not pay to access the activity.
In addition, the JCC continuously engages in ongoing community consultations to proactively identify, prevent and remove barriers and create an accessible and welcoming environment overall.
Partnerships with mental health organizations are also important to the JCC. To further support young people with mental health disabilities, the JCC also offers the ONTrack Fitness and Wellness Program, a free peer-support based fitness and wellness program that facilitates fitness for young adults with mental health disabilities. The program was developed as a result of input from Youth Access Advisory Committee and a partnership with Stella’s Place. Recently, the JCC also partnered with Workman Arts, an arts and mental health collective,and the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival, to host film screenings during the ReelAbilities Film Festival.
The facility’s strong feedback loop with the community has been critical to these efforts to create a place where people with disabilities can connect and belong. Mendelsohn explains that this work will continue into the future: “Accessibility is an ongoing journey as there is always more to take into account and more people to reach out to.”