Posted: Sat, 02/14/2015 - 15:12 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: Thanks to Jewish Learning Venture for sharing this important blog.

My son, a high functioning child with autism, did not speak until he was four and is only now, in 7th grade, learning to read independently. Yet he chanted from the Torah, recited the Sh’ma, helped lead the service, and delivered a D’var Torah that was unique in several important ways. He was thrilled, and so were we.

How can you make your child’s celebration equally memorable?

1). Know your child and make accommodations accordingly. Do not hesitate to ask your rabbi to work with you on this.  If your child is outgoing as our son is, and can handle a lot of guests, fine. If she is fearful of crowds or has performance anxiety, keep it intimate.

Posted: Sat, 02/14/2015 - 14:58 | The New Normal

In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month (#JDAM15), I had the privilege of interviewing Rabbi Robert Levine, Rabbi Benjamin Spratt and Rabbi Leora Kaye from Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City. These three amazing religious leaders plus Mrs. Gina Levine and Dr. Nancy Crown have worked together to develop Shireinu, holiday worship services for families of individuals with special needs.

The Shireinu program was started in June 2008 when Dr. Nancy Crown mentioned to Rabbi Levine’s wife that she felt her daughter with special needs did not fit in at Rodeph Sholom and therefore could only attend services on the high holidays.

Posted: Thu, 02/12/2015 - 19:23 | The New Normal

On a recent visit to a Pikud HaOref, Home Front Command base in Ramle, 14 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, a soldier tells me a very animated story about his role in Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s military operation in Gaza: “My job was to copy the papers for our soldiers to drop from planes over Gaza this summer!” The soldier, in uniform with his bright orange beret on his shoulder, happens to have Down Syndrome. 

He is very excited about his job in the base print shop. Another soldier with a visible disability proudly recounts the visit to the base the previous day by IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Ganz.  “We saluted him and gave him a present — olive oil that we made on the base!” 

Twenty five other soldiers with disabilities perform similarly important jobs each day on the base. If Tiran Attia and other visionaries have their way, Tzahal, or the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), may become a “game changer” in Israel for inclusion and for shaping attitudes about people with disabilities.

Posted: Sun, 02/08/2015 - 19:59 | The New Normal

The Jewish Week Media Group, in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, is proud to announce an innovative competition highlighting North American for profit businesses with exemplary practices in hiring, training and supporting people with disabilities.

Those selected will be recognized with a Ruderman “Best in Business Award” and featured in a June 19 supplement to The Jewish Week, which will be posted on The Jewish Week’s website and distributed in New York and Los Angeles.

“The surest path to full inclusion in our society comes from meaningful employment” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president.

Posted: Thu, 02/05/2015 - 21:51 | The New Normal

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the Fall, 2014 issue of  The Journal of Jewish Communal Service, and is disseminated with the permission of its publisher, JPRO Network.  Subscriptions at JPRO.org. We are sharing this primer in three parts; to see parts one and two,click here.

Budget the Time and Money That It Will Take to Do It Right. Inclusion is a lot less expensive than most people think, but it takes the right team with the right training to do it effectively. To ensure success and to develop an accurate budget, camps/schools/synagogues need to know how much funds are needed to have the right staff in place, give them the training needed to make them effective, and make the needed accommodations to the physical plant.

Posted: Thu, 02/05/2015 - 21:27 | The New Normal

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the Fall, 2014 issue of  The Journal of Jewish Communal Service, and is disseminated with the permission of its publisher, JPRO Network.  Subscriptions at JPRO.org. We are sharing this primer in three parts; to see part one click here.

Do a Self-Assessment on Inclusion. This is the first step in developing a comprehensive approach to serving people with disabilities. Here are some key questions to ask about your organization, inspired by material developed by the JE & ZB Butler and Ruderman Family Foundations.

  • Does your organization have policies and/or programs that support meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels? Are they prominent on your website and materials?
  • Does it have a disability advisory committee/inclusion committee, and if so, are Jews with disabilities themselves and their family members on the committee?
  • Will all people with any kind of disability be welcomed to participate? If not, why not? If so, how do you plan to identify, reach, and welcome them?
  • Do you serve Jews with disabilities in an inclusive way (welcoming them inside the full community), or are they forced into segregated “special needs programs” that are inherently unequal?
  • Has someone who uses a wheelchair personally checked the physical accessibility of your offices and programs for people who use wheelchairs?
  • Has a person who is blind and who uses adaptive computer technology checked your website and facilities for accessibility?
  • Do the videos you use have captions? Do you have a way to communicate with people who are deaf or use other adaptive supports?
  • Do you employ individuals who have disabilities? If so, what are their jobs? Do they receive the same compensation and benefits as all other employees in like positions?
  • How do you educate your staff, board of directors, trustees, and other key people about serving and partnering with people with disabilities?