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.

Disability Language Is A Guidewire

At New Jersey’s Camp Marcella, where many blind children spend a few weeks each summer, I used to sprint down the track, with no fear of veering into trees or other obstacles. I held a rope suspended vertically from a loop on a wire high above, which followed the course of the track. If I began to stray, the rope, zipping along the guidewire, would steer me back onto the track. 

Rabbi Michael Levy

"Special Needs" And Relational Inequality

This is the second blog advocating against the term “special needs” that I’ve posted on the New Normal blog.  I’m writing a second article on this subject because I’m speaking on behalf of the majority of disability activists who agree that this term actually defeats our cause. I will take every opportunity to discourage its use until it’s no longer part of our vocabulary, because “special needs” separates us out from the mainstream (special) and it reinforces the charity model (needs) against which the disability community has been struggling for many decades.

Sharon Shapiro-Lacks

I'm Not Your Mitzvah Project

Editor's Note: Last summer, we were delighted to share an exclusive interview with Pam Schuller. Now we are proud to share her powerful Op-Ed:

by Pamela Rae Schuller

(JTA) — I have Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements and noises called "tics." My Tourette’s is relatively mild at this point, but I went through a turbulent adolescence when Tourette's was the most defining thing about me. Between the constant movements and the loud, uncontrollable noises, it was incredibly disruptive.

I now work in the Jewish community as an inclusion advocate, as well as in youth engagement.

Pamela Rae Schuller

'Special Needs,' 'Inclusion,' 'Disability' Or None Of The Above? Why Labels Matter

I've often thought about the question of the terms we use such as “Special Needs,” “Inclusion,” or “Disability,” and which words are best to open lines of communication? I do not have any hearing in my right ear. I also have a noticeable facial discoloration on parts of my right face that leads some people to think that I have had a stroke, and, over the years, I have used several orthotic devices and sometimes a cane for balance.

"Label Jars Not People." Courtesy of Jay Wilson

The Language Of Prayer

Synagogues are opening the doors to participation by people with disabilities in large numbers. New buildings and remodeling projects follow the requirements provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many synagogues have greeters stationed at the doors to welcome people and direct newcomers to coat rooms, washrooms and the sanctuary. Trained ushers know where assistive listening devices are located and can seat people who use wheelchairs with their family and friends.

Visual icon for Jewish prayer. Courtesy of Gateways: Access To Jewish Education

Decision 2016: Disability Scorecards

Editor's Note: As the primary season begins, we bring you this exclusive interview with Jennifer Laslzo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbilityUSA, an important organization working on disability rights. Jennifer is on the campaign trail advocating for people with disabilities and answered our questions via email.

NN: Can you describe RespectAbilityUSA's mission in terms of inclusion in the Jewish community and why following the presidential race is connected to your mission?

JLM: Our work is all about improving the lives of people with disabilities. There is a big role for Jewish institutions in that work, and we are deeply committed to Jewish inclusion. But ultimately the disability agenda is a civil rights agenda and an anti-poverty agenda. And it’s far bigger than just the Jewish community. And the only way to move those agendas is to ensure that it is on the “to do list” of the next president of the United States. We want our issues to be center stage in the first 100 days of the next president's first term, and beyond.

The RespectAbility Report. Courtesy of Jennifer Laslzo Mizrahi

#JDAIM16: Disability And Language

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?

Steven Eidelman

Blogging Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month - #JDAIMblogs

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.

#JDAIM16 Blogs. Courtesy of Lisa Friedman

The Typical Israel Experience And A Whole Lot More

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.

Tikvah participants in Israel. Courtesy of Howard Blas

Inclusion Panel At JTS: Expanding The Circle And Embracing Diversity

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.

Disabilities, Inclusion and Jewish Education. Courtesy of JTS
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