April begins Autism Awareness Month. Here at The New Normal, we promise to bring you a variety of voices speaking about the experience of living with autism, and how we as a Jewish community can best support people who have autism across the lifespan. That means creating inclusive early education centers, meaningful workplaces and housing communities and more. Our bloggers will be sharing perspectives about how our community can provide effective formal and informal education and also make our synagogues and other communal places more inclusive of people on the spectrum and their families.
The proverb “The perfect should not be the enemy of the good,” means that insisting on perfection often results in no improvement at all. In keeping with the wisdom of this sentiment, I think the time has come to begin the discussion of what does inclusion of people with disabilities really mean? And should we as a community allow for sub-optimal solutions? Recently I was faced with two separate situations that echoed these questions for me.
Visual artist Chany Wieder-Blank recently participated in the Asylum Arts International Jewish Artist Retreat, which was created as part of Schusterman Connection Points, an initiative launched by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network, a global enterprise that supports and creates innovative initiatives for the purpose of igniting the passion and unleashing the power in young people to create positive change in Jewish communities and beyond.
“The New Normal” Editor Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer interviewed Wieder-Blank about her experience at Asylum, her art, activism, Jewish identity and experience as a person living with a disability.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released new data stating that 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This number is a 30% increase from data released in May 2012 that identified 1 in 88 children as having autism. It is 120% higher than the numbers reported in 2000 and 2002, which identified 1 in 150 children as having autism. In 1980, only 1 in 10,000 children was diagnosed with autism.
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.
The stigma associated with all kinds of human difference pervades social awareness. Whether prejudice is based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, physical characteristics or disabilities, few possess the neutrality towards the other we espouse as a liberal ideal. Western democracies combat the inequalities stemming from such differences. By statute and judicial judgment, access to housing, jobs, education, transportation, and the right to vote have been mandated, but despite significant legislative advances over the past 30 years, few are satisfied that the goals of such laws have achieved their intended effects.