Yachad designs a Megillah for the deaf and hard-of-hearing; Makes Purim more enjoyable for everyone
Purim mandates that every Jew read the Megillah. But what about the deaf community? If they can’t hear the baal korei, they can’t follow along with the rest of the congregation.
“Members of the Jewish deaf community approached us lamenting, ‘We can’t be part of this holiday,’” says Batya Jacob, director of Educational Support Services for Yachad/NJCD, the Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities.
Yachad promptly addressed the need by designing a unique computer Power Point program on a CD containing the entire Megillah with Hebrew and English translations. The program is projected onto a wide screen to enable the deaf or hard-of-hearing to follow the cursor as it moves over the text while the Megillah is being read.
The CD comes complete with visual “sound effects.” Every time the cursor clicks on “Haman,” animated images pop up on the screen depicting the evil nemesis’s demise—through swords, arrows, elephant stomping, blowtorch and more.
Word of the Megillah Power Point spread quickly. Calls and emails poured in from both shuls and individuals asking Yachad to send them copies of the Megillah CD. The showing premiered ten years ago in five shuls. With each subsequent year, the interest continued to rise. In fact, this Purim 750 shuls plan to participate.
Yachad realized that it’s not just the deaf taking advantage of this Power Point option. The program also benefitted people with vision problems, autism, attention deficit issues, the elderly and even fidgety children.
“Parents told us that their youngsters, who were never able to sit through the reading before, now can,” says Jacob. The continuous visual cues help to keep them focused.”
Afghanistan Calling…Taiwan too!
In an effort to cast a wider inclusion net, Yachad started marketing the free Power Point presentation to a broader population, placing advertisements online, in numerous Jewish publications, as well as working with the OU’s department of synagogue services. The effort succeeded—in unexpected ways.
“We heard from a U.S. Army chaplain stationed in Afghanistan,” says Jacob. “He told us that although there wasn’t anyone in his army base with disabilities, many of the soldiers couldn’t read Hebrew; the Power Point helped them to easily follow along with the reading.”
Jacob says someone from Taiwan saw the CD advertised on the OU website and emailed Yachad for a copy.
To avoid any technical glitches, Yachad urges shuls to try the CD out before Purim. If they encounter any problems, they can call Frank Ducheony, Montreal’s former coordinator for Yachad/Our Way (the OU’s division for the Jewish deaf) and the mastermind behind the increasingly popular presentation.
Invariably, after each Purim, positive feedback streams into Yachad headquarters via email and phone.
“An individual from the Jewish deaf community told us, ‘I’ve never been able to participate in Megillat Esther before. This is the first time I was able to go to shul and be part of the tefilla,’” says Jacob. “We really had no clue how well this would be received.”
To make your synagogue or center accessible to all Jews this Purim, contact Yachad at: Batyaj@ou.org or 212.613.8127 for a free copy of the Megillat Esther Power Point CD.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.