The New Normal

Everyone is welcome in The New Normal, a Jewish blog about disability. We're a source of information, inspiration and a challenge to received wisdom.

How Children View Disability: A Refreshing Perspective

While I waited to donate blood at my local firehouse, I was introduced to a friend’s five-year-old daughter.  I covered my face and said “I’m shy.”

Israeli Yeshiva Starts Program For Students With Autism

Yeshivat Maale Gilboa, a popular destination for study for both American students on their gap year between high school and college and Israeli students post-army service, has created a program for young people who have Asperger Syndrome and may not be able to study in a traditional yeshiva setting.

President Obama Signs the ABLE Act

President Obama on Friday signed into law the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act which will allow families with children with disabilities to save for college and other expenses in tax-deferred accounts. The legislation was co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC).

The ABLE Act, first introduced in 2008, amends the Internal Revenue Service Code to allow use of tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. Families will be allowed to use the funds in the savings accounts to cover education, housing, medical and transportation expenses, among others.

Creating An Inclusive Chanukah Program In Our School

As an educator in a fully inclusive supplemental religious school, which is part of a fully inclusive Reform congregation, one of the questions I am most often asked is “How do you do it?” I am eager to share my thoughts and suggestions, especially if it means that other congregations will move toward greater inclusion. And yet, while I share and have written articles such as Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive, I’d be lying if I said that you’d be all set if you just read and followed the exact steps that my congregation followed. You can’t just wrap our process up with a bow, plunk it down into your community and say, “OK, now we are inclusive.”

That is because inclusion is not a program.

At Beth-El's Chanukah Program. Courtesy of Lisa Friedman

Eight Ways To Build A More Inclusive Community

It’s Chanukah, and we’re thinking in eights. Here are eight steps we all can take towards making a more inclusive community for people of all abilities all year long.

1. Use People-First Language: The words used to describe us have an impact on our lives. One important change that many of us can make is to shift how we talk about people with disabilities — doing so helps to shift our perspectives and see the whole person. Put the person before the disability. David is a child who has autism, not an autistic child. Click here for resources to help guide you in using people-first language.

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

An Exchange Of Gifts

I became aware of this man – I’ll call him Joe – as he often sat across from me at the cafeteria-style eatery we both frequented. Around four decades older than I, he was no shrinking violet. If I had my daily paper spread out to the side of and behind my bagel, egg and coffee meal, he’d say something like, “Do you think I could have a couple inches of the table?” 

Rather than get annoyed, I liked his feistiness and I would quickly move my paper to give him as much room as possible.

Alan Magill

Chanukah Resources For All Children

Chanukah is here! Have your children forgotten the blessings since last year? Do they need to brush up on their Chanukah skills? Do you need some activities for that Chanukah bash you are throwing? Look no further!

Below is a list of resources for everything you will need to make Chanukah accessible and fun, for everyone:

Learning about Chanukah. Courtesy of Gateways

Holiday Gifts For Children Of All Abilities

Chanukah is a time to spend with friends and family lighting candles, eating delicious foods and exchanging gifts. When buying gifts for children and adolescents with autism always ask parents for gift suggestions. They can tell you about the child’s dietary restrictions, interests, and strengths and weaknesses. If you do not feel comfortable asking parents for holiday shopping advice, observe what toys, games, books, electronic appliances the child seems to enjoy. Parents will always appreciate having another one of their child’s favorite item readily available in case it is damaged. 

Dr. Frances Victory

Creating Great Jewish Learning Experiences for All Kinds of Learners

Adam Rogers knows what it’s like to face challenges in school or in interactions with friends. As a younger kid, he experienced anger management issues. Now, as a high school sophomore, Adam helps others overcome their own set of learning challenges through the B’Tzelem: Jewish Teen Learning Companions at five Cleveland area congregations.

“My role in B’Tzelem is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” says Adam, who helps an 8th grader at Kol Chadash in Solon, OH.

B'Tzelem Teen Fellow. Courtesy of Jason Edelstein

The Little Miracle That Connected Me To HaShem

Hashem works in interesting ways. In the middle 1990s, I had a really good psychotherapist who went for another job and I was broken up about it. Mom had her own health issues and it also bothered her that I lost a therapist we really trusted. I was depressed and Mom wanted to cheer me up.

It was Chanukah time and she was out shopping at the Roosevelt Mall in Northeast Philadelphia and there was a Radio Shack that was having a grand opening sale. They were selling radios and Walkmans and knowing my love for music, she thought, “This will cheer Phyllis up.”

Phyllis Lit
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