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.

Creative Accommodations: Including People Who Are Deaf In The Jewish Community

Editor's Note: Alexis Kasher, the current president of the Jewish Deaf Resource Center, recently shared her personal experiences and perspectives on inclusion for people who are deaf in the Jewish community at the Foundation for Jewish Camping conference. New Normal editor Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer interviewed Kashar about the conference.

NN: What is your experience of inclusion for people who are deaf in the Jewish community?
AK: I spent many years practicing civil rights and special education law. My practice focused on the civil and education rights of people who are deaf and hard of hearing or with disabilities. Laws are in place to protect their rights; however, enforcement is still an issue. It has been many years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and various federal special education laws was passed but we still have a ways to go before we are at 100 percent compliance. The truth is, once we are at 100 percent compliance, we will have achieved universal design that will benefit everyone. For instance, imagine how strollers would get around without curb cuts and how we could watch the Super Bowl in a noisy public place without closed captioning. However, for the most part religious organizations are exempt from compliance with the ADA. 

Alexis Kashar

OHEL Takes Fundraising To A New Height

Last Tuesday, May 20th, eighty-one friends and supports of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services raised a minimum of $1,000 each to rappel 20 stories over the side of the Heritage Capital Group building in Newark, New Jersey. All proceeds will help children with developmental disabilities attend camp.

For such an endeavor, finding a willing partner in a building owner can understandably be a challenge. OHEL was fortunate to find two big hearts in Steve Greenberg and Jeff Greenberg, owners of the Heritage Capital Group, and their staff.

Autism Doesn't Make You Kill People

Editor's Note: In response to last week's tragic shooting and a recent article linking autism and violence, Aaron Feinstein shares a conversation about empathy that he shared with young people who have autism following the Sandy Hook shootings last year. 

There is a myth that autism is defined by a lack of empathy, but this is not the autism I know. People with autism are some of the most empathetic people that I have ever met.

Autistic people and their families are once again being asked to make sense of the terribly tragic shooting at Isla Vista in Santa Barbara with the rest of the country. The difference in the autism community is that our grieving is in the shadow of a recent Washington Post article linking mass shootings to autism. Although the article is based on poor anecdotal evidence and should easily be dismissed, it still further stigmatizes people with autism as somehow having an inherent connection to these horrific mass shootings.

Because of the shooting, and that article, I felt compelled to share a discussion I facilitated with a group of teenagers on the autism spectrum that emerged after the Sandy Hook massacre in one of our Miracle Project classes in Brooklyn. 

"Great In Uniform:" Inclusion In The IDF

Editor's Note: In 2001, IDF Lt. Col. Ariel Almog was driving in his car near Sde Trumot junction in the Jordan Valley. Ahead of him was a bus, stopping to take on passengers. He averted a catastrophe, at great risk to himself, and during his convalescence he encountered many people with disabilities. The result is a groundbreaking IDF inclusion program.

A "Great in Uniform" soldier salutes. Courtesy of IDF

Sitting Alone in the Hallway

At times, the world of typical families can feel like a country club that doesn’t allow families like mine, which includes a child with special needs, to enter. And unlike Groucho Marx, who once famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member,” I desperately want my family to be accepted. Unfortunately, there is no button on the Little League website, or parks and recreation swim class sign-up, or after school club enrollment page that says, “Click here if your child has special needs.” The message I repeatedly get is, “Of course your child has a right to play baseball, take swim classes, pursue a hobby. Just not here.”

That’s a bitter pill for any parent to swallow.

The author with her family. Courtesy of Alison Auderieth Lobron

Success Story: Man With A Disability To Give Thousands To Charity

Editor's Note: Jonah Selber's experience is an inspiring story -- he has received the vocational and housing support that he needed to succeed. This feature is the start of a monthly series in which "The New Normal" will share about a person living successfully in a different kind of housing model for people with disabilities.

Jonah Selber, who was born with a developmental disability, is a longtime, successful employee of Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia where he serves as an office assistant in the Information Systems Department. He loves his job and never takes it for granted. Unlike 70 percent of working age Americans with disabilities who are out of the workforce, Jonah has been working for 17 years delivering important business documents and greeting customers in the Information Systems service center at one of the nation’s top hospitals.

Jonah Selber

Courage, Responsibility and Memory: Making Nature Accessible

Editor's Note: In honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut, which fell last week, we are sharing this blog about LOTEM, an innovative program in Israel that organizes outings for people with special needs on nature reserves through the country.

If I had any doubt about the importance of my work as a soldier guide with LOTEM- Making Nature Accessible, yesterday it totally vanished.

It all began when I got on the bus as I do every day when I am guiding, though what awaited me was a surprise. When my face was revealed to the students they began to call out, "You were with us last year," and "I know you" and "Do you remember that we were in the Judean Desert?" The students indeed were not mistaken! One year ago I guided the same group from Shafririm A. School for teenagers with intellectual challenges in the Judean Desert on a two-day hike.

GISHA Conference: Inclusion In The 21st Century

On Sunday May 4 and Monday May 5, over 120 Jewish educators in day and supplementary schools came together with special educators and professionals working in inclusion issues in Newtown, MA for Hebrew College’s sixth annual GISHA conference. (Gisha means "good ideas" in Hebrew.)

GISHA Conference, Courtesy of Hebrew College

Never Say Always: Is Inclusion Always In Children’s Best Interest?

Editor's Note: Last month, The New Normal featured Inclusion advocate Shelley Cohen's perspective on a new Jewish day school for children with learning disabilities opening in Manhattan next fall. Now, Dr. Yoni Schwab (Assistant Head of School) responds with his perspective on the Shefa School.

This fall, the Shefa School will open in the new Lincoln Square Synagogue building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As a new, stand-alone, pluralistic Jewish day school for children with language-based learning disabilities in kindergarten through eighth grade, it will provide expert, immersive instruction to help students overcome dyslexia and other learning challenges that interfere with reading and writing. We have seen significant demand for such a school, with children quickly enrolling from throughout the New York area and from across the spectrum of Jewish practice and engagement.

Yoni Schwab

Autism Resources Round-Up

Autism Awareness Month is over, and at “The New Normal” we’re proud that we could bring you different voices from the spectrum, including My Experience: Autism and Judaism, Autism and Vacations, Can Autism Acceptance and Recovery Coexist? and Aspergers-Friendly Seder. We will continue to cover issues related to autism and the Jewish community throughout the year and wanted to close out the month with a round-up of some of our favorite autism websites. Please share your favorite autism-related websites and blogs in the comments below. Ours include:

A roundup of autism resources. Fotolia
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