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Posted: Sat, 01/30/2016 - 07:38 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, an international effort to raise awareness (#JDAIM16 on twitter). "The New Normal" will share blogs all month long about the language we use when we talk about disability. Please comment here or on our Facebook page — share with your community and join the conversation!

Does it really matter what we call people? Is terminology and language use important? By now you may think you have heard too much about person-first language, or at least the intent which is to emphasize the person and not the label. This works for most groups, although increasingly those who are autistic, or at least organizations representing them, seem to prefer the term "autistics" over "people with autism" (Read more about that debate here). 

So what does it really matter?

Posted: Wed, 01/27/2016 - 07:29 | The New Normal

Editor's Note: Next week begins Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month--a time when the Jewish community puts extra focus on the inclusion of people with disabilities. At "The New Normal," we know that this is a 365-day effort and appreciate all of our readers and contributors giving attention to this issue. We are sharing this blog from contributor Lisa Friedman and will be featuring a series of blogs about disability and language through the month.

For those of you who have been following this event for a few years or more, you will note that the acronym has changed. Since 2009, Jewish Disability Awareness Month has taken place each February with the tagline “From Awareness to Inclusion”. In keeping with that trend, the various organizers of this annual event have added “I” for inclusion right into the title: Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

Posted: Sat, 01/23/2016 - 20:31 | The New Normal

Eight brave young adults with disabilities from across the United States traveled to Israel over winter break as part of Ramah Israel Institute’s Tikvah Ramah Israel Trip. Most of this year’s travelers are current participants in or recent graduates of the various vocational training programs at Ramah camps. They are in transition to the world of work and, in some cases, moving from their parents’ homes to other living environments. Their itinerary included many of the sites and experiences of a “standard 10-day Israel trip" and a whole lot more.

Ramah offers a Tikvah Israel trip every two years.

Posted: Sat, 01/23/2016 - 19:57 | 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 - 11:25 | 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 - 13:13 | 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.