I have a disability, and I am a Jew: Thoughts on Metro Mobility and religious access

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I am a Jewish woman who uses a wheelchair and I have a difficult time getting to my synagogue in Minnetonka for Shabbat Services. I’m also a member of the Board of Trustees.

Because I use a wheelchair I must rely on Metro Mobility, the para-transit service for eligible people with disabilities. Metro Mobility provides door-to-door service to get me where I want to go. I’ve been having a hard time getting to the synagogue since Metro Mobility changed their service areas three years ago.

I live in a first ring suburb of Minneapolis. Living in a first ring service area is a good area to be in for Metro Mobility users. I can get to grocery stores, Target and shopping malls. I even go to my favorite hangout place, Starbucks! These destinations are also located in the first ring service area.

When I need Metro Mobility I have to call four days ahead to schedule a ride. If I want to go somewhere on Friday I have to call to schedule a ride on Sunday. A reservationist takes my order. I give them the time I want to be at my destination and they tell me when I will be picked up. For example if I want to be at Starbucks by 11:00 am Metro Mobility gives me a 10:00 am pickup time.

A ride during rush hour costs $4.00 each way. A ride during off-peak times is $3.00 each way.

My synagogue is not located in the first ring service area. It’s six blocks south of the service area. I still call four days ahead to make a reservation. Because the synagogue is outside of the first ring service area, they put me on standby. The day before the ride Metro Mobility determines if I can get a ride. I can be picked up anywhere from two hours before I want to be someplace to one hour after I need to be there. If I don’t like the schedule they give me, I can ask them to see if I get a better time. This doesn’t always work. I either go according to their schedule or just decide to stay home.

When I call to make a ride to the synagogue I get so frustrated that I wish I could just jump in the phone and make the ride myself!

I use an electric wheelchair when going on Metro Mobility as it’s a lot easier for me to use then my manual wheelchair. I have a manual wheelchair so people can pick me up and take me places. When I’m in my manual wheelchair I feel so helpless. I can’t push myself. I have to wait for someone to push me places. Plus I sit so low to the ground in it that I don’t feel like myself.

Being included as a contributing member of my synagogue is a wonderful experience. But getting there using the mode of transportation that gives me independence in the rest of my life is really a barrier. Something has to be done. People with disabilities have a right to go to their place of worship without having to wait and wonder if they can get there. I want to go to my synagogue without worrying whether I’ll even make it there. I want to be a part of that community on a dependable basis. Just because I have a disability shouldn’t make me any less of a Jew.

Right: My name is Sharon Palay. I’m a Jewish Woman, with Cerebral Palsy, living independently, in Minneapolis. I was born in Grand Forks, ND. I’ve been living in the Cities for 27 yrs. It took 14 yrs to find a congregation that would accept me. I’m proud to say I joined Bet Shalom Congregation in 2001 and I’m one of the Co-Chairs of the Inclusion Committee and serve on Bet Shalom’s Board Of Trustees.