Disability Rights Activist Shelly Christensen Publishes A Book on Inclusive Environments in Faith-Based Communities

December 10, 2018

Shelly Christensen headshot, courtesy of Shelly Christensen. 

On December 10, 2018, Shelly Christensen published From Longing to Belonging: A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community. The book discusses how faith-based organizations can create welcoming and inclusive environments for people with disabilities and mental health conditions. Christensen includes many stories about her own experiences raising her son, who has autism.   

Christensen received a BA in Journalism at the University of Minnesota and a MA in Developmental Disabilities from St. Mary’s University. She earned a certificate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace from the Muma School of Business at the University of South Florida. She also graduated from the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Delaware.  

Christensen worked as the Program Manager of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities from September 2001 until May 2014. She co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) in 2009. JDAIM fights stigmas surrounding disability and aims to fully integrate people with disabilities into the Jewish community. 

Christensen was the president of the Religion and Spirituality Network of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities from 2014-2016. In 2019, she received the association’s Reimagining Spirituality Leadership Award “in recognition of her inspiring leadership, innovation, and outstanding contributions in the field of disability and mental health inclusion.” 

Christensen is the Senior Director of Faith Inclusion at RespectAbility, a nonprofit devoted to promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of communities. She was one of the first leaders of the movement to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities and mental health conditions within faith communities. She also serves on the Core Council of the Institute for Theology and Disability and the board of Faith Inclusion Network. 

Christensen has three sons, Aaron, Jacob, and Zac. Jacob has autism, and the family synagogue always accepted and included him. Christensen says, “Jacob was just Jacob. He was always treated with respect, appreciation and understanding that he needed some support in order to learn, be a contributing member of his class and be seen as ‘Just Jacob.’” Jacob graduated from the University of Minnesota, where he studied sociology and political science, and went on to work at “Autism Works,” dedicated to supporting people with autism.  


Esther D. Kustanowitz February 1, 2023. “Jewish Disability Advocates Aim to Expand Their Work as They Kick off a Month of Programming.” eJewish Philanthropy, February 5, 2023. https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jewish-disability-advocates-aim-to-expand-their-work-as-they-kick-off-a-month-of-programming/

“Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month.” RespectAbility, December 14, 2022. https://www.respectability.org/jdaim/.  

“Shelly Christensen.” Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center, March 6, 2015. https://disabilitiesinclusion.org/advisory-committee/shelly-christensen/.  

“Shelly Christensen - Director of Faith Inclusion - Linkedin.” Accessed April 17, 2023. https://www.linkedin.com/in/shellychristensenbelong

Staff, RespectAbility. “Shelly Christensen.” RespectAbility, January 4, 2023. https://www.respectability.org/2017/12/shelly-christensen/


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Disability Rights Activist Shelly Christensen Publishes A Book on Inclusive Environments in Faith-Based Communities." (Viewed on April 12, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/dec/10/2018/disability-rights-activist-shelly-christensen-publishes-book-inclusive>.