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Posted: Sat, 01/23/2016 - 18:57 | The New Normal

On Tuesday, December 8, The Jewish Theological Seminary hosted the Jack and Lewis Rudin Lecture, titled “Disabilities, Inclusion, and Jewish Education.” As an educator and researcher, I was honored to moderate the program with an esteemed panel of guests: Howard Blas, director, National Ramah Tikvah Network; Dori Frumin Kirshner, executive director, Matan; Arlene Remz, executive director, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education in Boston and Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, founder and head of school, The Shefa School in New York City.

I am sure many of you echo my enthusiasm when I say, “At last!” While disability issues are becoming an increasing priority on the communal Jewish agenda, we admittedly have a long way to go.

Posted: Tue, 01/19/2016 - 10:25 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared on newsworks.

In less than a week, my son, George, will turn 13, and like generations of Jewish boys before him, he will become a bar mitzvah. 

For George, who is non-verbal and on the more severe end of the autism spectrum, his bar mitzvah service will be carefully modified. We've taught him how to select his Torah verses from an app on his iPad that he uses to communicate. Rather than a speech about his Torah portion, he is painting a collage about it. He will deliver prayers from his front row seat, as standing before the congregation would cause him sensory overwhelm.

As we've prepared for his service, I've questioned my choices.

Posted: Wed, 01/13/2016 - 12:13 | The New Normal

Michael’s life took a turn for the better when he became a volunteer at Melbourne’s first ever Jewish Music Festival, Shir Madness. After a phone interview he was allocated to one of the most senior volunteer roles of venue manager. He attended the training and spent some time clarifying details of the task at the volunteer briefing. He did a really great job on that day. Unbeknown to us, Michael had spent many years at a special school and had never before in his life been given a position of responsibility.

Posted: Mon, 01/11/2016 - 14:46 | The New Normal

On Jan. 5, Hillary Clinton revealed an autism initiative that is fairly comprehensive in scope. It includes programs tailored towards all age groups, from early diagnosis in toddlers (particularly those in underserved communities), to educational support and anti-bullying strategies for students, to increased housing and employment options for adults.

More impressively, Clinton navigated the political minefield that is the autism community fairly successfully.

Posted: Sun, 01/03/2016 - 14:27 | The New Normal

How can you accommodate what you don’t see? Just because a disability isn’t always visual doesn’t mean it should be ignored. In fact, in our experience, it’s a time for an employer, whether large or small, to shine. We frequently hear that hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense. It’s common to think of employees with disabilities as individuals who are in a wheelchair or blind. But what happens when the disability isn’t visible?

It’s not obviously apparent when you hire someone that they have a hidden or mental disability. There’s no label that says "HELLO! I’m a qualified employee who is prone to panic attacks." It’d be illegal if there was. It’s a personal choice for that employee to disclose their disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects that right.

However, we’ve seen that our employees like to talk about their individual disability in a safe space.

Posted: Fri, 12/25/2015 - 17:16 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: This blog originally appeared on Forbes.com

We’re used to talking about the Israeli tech ecosystem as the Startup Nation, focusing on the young country’s ability to quickly launch and scale innovative ideas and build companies from the ground up. Tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Apple understand the role the Startup Nation plays globally and they routinely acquire startups here.

What’s sometimes lost in the cool-whiz-bang-awesomeness of some of the startups coming out of Israel is the fact that some of these companies are dramatically changing lives. Israel has an entire tech sector dedicated to enabling the disabled. The impact Israeli tech has on people is almost biblical in nature: whether it’s helping quadriplegics to walk (and look their loved ones directly in the eyes or use their hands or move more efficiently) or the deaf to hear and the vision-impaired to see, Israel is a leading medical innovator.