Haley McCormick-Thompson, a young adult with a developmental disability, spends part of her day transporting senior residents of United Hebrew from their rooms to their various activities throughout the day. One of the more lighthearted activities is the sing-along, where she stands at the front of a crowded room leading a group of senior residents, helping them follow along with song sheets.
“I really care about the residents,” Haley said. “I like helping them if they’re sad and I like staying late and helping. I am always willing to do extra.”
Haley is modest. Staff say she is a rock star with the residents.
Editor's Note: Jonah Selber's experience is an inspiring story -- he has received the vocational and housing support that he needed to succeed. This feature is the start of a monthly series in which "The New Normal" will share about a person living successfully in a different kind of housing model for people with disabilities.
Jonah Selber, who was born with a developmental disability, is a longtime, successful employee of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia where he serves as an office assistant in the Information Systems Department. He loves his job and never takes it for granted. Unlike 70 percent of working age Americans with disabilities who are out of the workforce, Jonah has been working for 17 years delivering important business documents and greeting customers in the Information Systems service center at one of the nation’s top hospitals.
Nalaga'at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble is a world famous acting group whose cast consists of a dozen talented deaf-blind actors. RespectAbilityUSA is an American non-profit organization devoted to empowering people with disabilities to be valued and respected for the abilities that they do have. Claudia Gordon works at the White House Office of Public Engagement where she serves as the Public Engagement Advisor to the Disability Community. All three joined together for a night of theater and exchange, when Nalaga'at performed at the Kennedy Center.
Today, when Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a vital speech in front of 14,000 people at AIPAC on the threat of Iran and the need for a successful lasting and secure peace, there was no sign language interpreter or live captioning offered. There were more than 40 massive screens around the room showing the speech – yet not one of them enabled someone with a hearing impairment to follow the program.
When most people think of the New Jersey YM-YWHA Camps they likely think of their specialty summer programs designed to develop skills in sports and other areas. After all, former Yankee Ron Blomberg, NBA basketball coach Herb Brown, and Olympic swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg teach at their camps. But this year, in addition to baseball, basketball, swimming, soccer, tennis, ceramics, painting, jewelry making, astronomy and cinematography the NJY camp also included a first-rate experience in inclusion of campers with disabilities.
As we start the New Year, it’s important to look back on what was accomplished for inclusion of Jews with disabilities this past year. We planted the seeds for future progress. Most of the work focused on “setting the table” for inclusion: raising awareness, creating critical policies and standards, and developing and conducting training for professionals. Hopefully, 2014 will be the year of implementation. Meanwhile, here are the top plays and players of 2013.
Last week I observed a first-of-its kind gathering – a five-day intensive professional training for American Jewish leaders on inclusion of people with disabilities. The forum took place in a kosher retreat center outside of Baltimore, and people had came from many cities to learn a special curriculum that was designed by inclusion experts Shelly Christensen and Prof. Steve Eidelman.
When the Jewish Federation of North America hosts the GA in Jerusalem this week, there will be one session on inclusion of Jews with disabilities. The speakers are terrific and I urge all participants to attend. But this panel discussion will be one in a long line of “too little, too slow” actions by JFNA to embrace inclusion of Jews with disabilities.
I am writing for your advice on Jewish identity, Israel and more. RespectAbilityUSA is partnering with JerusalemU for this online survey and we want to be sure that the sample has enough Jews with disabilities and their family members. Can you please fill this out AND send it to all the Jews you know who have disabilities or a family member with a disability? So far 1800 Jews have filled out the survey, but not nearly enough of them are from the disability community. We want your voice to be heard!