Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
For many parents of children with special needs the word “inclusion” seems like the elusive pot of gold waiting at the end of a rainbow. You’ve heard it exists, and think it would be great, but haven’t actually ever seen it.
Two different key events that focus on inclusion are taking place in early March, and both deserve our attention.
The first is the 2013 Ruderman Family Foundation Prize in Disability. Now in its second year, the Ruderman Prize is all about celebrating successful inclusion initiatives in Jewish communities around the world, which founder Jay Ruderman hopes will in turn, “spark some new inclusion programs”.
Last year The Ruderman Foundation received over 150 applications representing seven countries, and 10 prizes were awarded at $10,000 each. This year, the Foundation expects to award up to 5 prizes of $50,000 each. Let’s be clear about this –-this is not your usual prospective grant program; instead, it is recognition funding for an existing inclusion program that serves Jewish people with disabilities. Segregated programs that serve only people with disabilities, without any typical participants, are not considered to be inclusive.
“We are trying to show that special needs aren’t just a small niche part of the Jewish community, “ Jay Ruderman told me in a phone interview from Israel. “We need other Jewish funders to be out front in their support of special needs programs.”
One of last year’s award recipients was AKIM, an Israel non-governmental organization founded in 1951 by the parents of intellectually disabled children. When we were in Israel last summer as part of the LA Jewish Federation’s Special Needs Study Mission, we got to see first-hand the program AKIM created with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that was awarded a 2012 Ruderman prize for inclusion.
We met a 26-year-old man with Down Syndrome who had been working as a full-time volunteer at an Israeli army base, helping with the inventory of boots and uniforms. Instead of just throwing him into this situation, a whole year was spent getting him, and his soon-to-be-employers, ready, including special transportation training, inter-personal skills as well as training for the soldiers with whom he would work. The commander of the base spoke to us and shared how important that program was to him personally, and to the whole army base.
(Interested non-profits can apply online and applications are due in by March 18.)
The second event is the national television premiere of the powerful documentary, “Certain Proof” which profiles three youngsters with cerebral palsy whose families near Raleigh, North Carolina, are determined for them to be fully included in public school settings. We watch as Josh, Colin and Kay are continually asked to “prove” that they are academically at grade-level. Even when these students are provided full-time aides, some of the general education teachers are visibly uncomfortable with the students who have disabilities, and on thin pedagogic ice on teaching them.
As a mom of a teen with the same condition, the material presented hit home, hard. When our son first entered the public school system at age 5, it took a lawyer just to keep him in a non-segregated school, let alone a non-segregated classroom. Like the mothers shown in the documentary, I know that more is going on his head then he can express, but we are still working on basic typing skills at age 18.
The director of this award-winning documentary is Ray Ellis. He wrote that when he and his wife, Susan, were first introduced to a local non-profit dedicated to educating children with mobility and communication disabilities their “eyes were opened to an entire world we knew very little about….Our purpose in producing this documentary is to lift the veil of disability, showing these unique and wonderful children in a truer light.
The premiere of “Certain Proof” will be on Sunday, March 3 at 8 pm EST on the Starz and Family Channels. For more information or to order a DVD, go to www.certainproof.com
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February 21, 2013 | 11:53 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
Purim is an especially festive Jewish holiday that captures the essence of many Jewish holidays--the bad guys tried to kill us, we triumphed, now let's eat and party! For people with sensory issues, it can be challenging since it tradtionally includes very loud booing every time that the name of the bad guy, Haman, is mentioned. To help prepare kids for all that noise, there's a lot of great tools available through the Gateways website including social stories about how to wait in line at a Purim carnival, a simplified version of the Purim story, and lots of games and other activities.
This year, Purim is on Saturday night, February 23 and Sunday, February 24, and there's a wide variety of celebrations in our area for children and adults with special needs. Our 18-year-old son with special needs used to cry and whine during megillah readings when he was younger, but now he can't get enough of Purim songs, parties and screaming out "BOO" on top of his lungs.We will be going to as many of these events listed below until I am the one crying!
A special thanks to HaMercaz for sharing this list:
Yachad LA Purim Extravaganza
Saturday Night, Feb 23, 7:45-9 pm with JLIC at UCLA
UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Avenue
Chaverim Purim Party Hosted by B'nai David Judea
Sun, February 24, 1:30pm - 3:30pm
B'nai David- Judea 8906 West Pico Blvd. Los Angeles (Social Hall)
FREE! Costume Contest, Mishloach Manot Purim Baskets, Singing, Dancing and Snacks.
Please RSVP to Gerry Dicker at (818) 464-3360 or email@example.com
Etta Young Professional Purim Party
Sun, February 24, 12pm - 3pm
The Mark on Pico 9320 West Pico Blvd Los Angeles, 90035
Tickets: $25 per person.
To buy tickets and for more information, go to ettapurim.eventbrite.com or call 818-985-3882 ext 231
Friendship Circle LA--Purim in Africa
Sunday February 24t, 4:30-6:30pm, Megillah Reading at 4:40 pm
9051 W Pico Blvd, LA 90035 4th floor, One Block East of Doheny
Teen volunteers will be on hand to assist all children who have
special needs. Child's parent must be present.
RSVP to Chayie at 310.280.0955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Valley Friendship Circle and Camp Chesed Family Fun-Stival
Sunday, Feb. 24, Adar 14 12:00pm, Megillah Reading 12:3
"Orange Delight" Purim Feast 1:30Magic, Game Booths, Prizes & Awards, Live music,
Megillah reading and much more! Adults & Children Grand Masquerade Contest!!
Weisman Estate 5324 Genesta Ave, Encino, 91316
February 14, 2013 | 11:57 pm
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
As a non-profit professional in Los Angeles, I’ve worked at both Jewish and general charities. While it can sometimes be more comfortable for me to work in the Jewish community, I find myself stretching more as a person in the non-Jewish environment, especially during the casual conversations over lunch, when African-American and Latino colleagues on occasion will share painful memories of discrimination.
So, as I am busy promoting and participating as a parent disability advocate with Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month during February, I am also mindful that this is also Black History Month, I am drawn to the parallels of each group, struggling to move out of the margins to claim their rightful place in our society.
When someone makes a snap judgment of your potential ability based solely on your appearance, that hurts. When dreams are taken away from you because of stereotyping and myths, that’s cruel. And when you can’t even receive the same level of education as your peers, it makes it incredibly difficult to ever catch up.
Some have commented that although the civil rights movement began with the black community’s own self-empowerment and organizing, it later grew to include others, including many Jews, who stood up and walked hand in hand against injustice. As the Black History website says, “The Civil Rights Movement was not about black and white, it was about right and wrong.”
So, how do we apply that to the Jewish Disability Awareness Movement? I worry that the families touched by disabilities are spending too much energy pointing fingers and talking amongst ourselves, complaining and wishing we had a more inclusive community. It’s time to take our issue to a new level and actively enlist the support of our extended family, friends and congregants.
Just like the Civil Rights movement of the 60s, we need a multi-pronged approach that uses a combination of grassroots activism along with high-level meetings with the top professionals and lay leaders to create the needed changes in attitude, funding and the willingness to make this issue a priority.
And this movement is really about helping to ensure the future of the whole Jewish community; As Jennifer Lazlo Mizrachi points out in her recent article in The Forward about ending discrimination against children with disabilities in our day schools, “Approximately 200,000 Jewish children in America have some sort of disability.”
With those numbers, it’s time to get organized, grow our cause and start singing together, “We shall overcome”.
February 4, 2013 | 12:50 am
Posted by Michelle K. Wolf
We just returned from a fun, tiring and expensive day at Disneyland and our 18-year-old son, Danny, with multiple disabilities loved it, especially the Winnie-the-Pooh ride which he went on five times in a row (my husband was the saint; I bailed out after two whirls in the honey pot). Turns out that lots of people in Southern California don’t really care about the Super Bowl but they do like going to Disneyland when it’s sunny during the winter months.
Everywhere we turned, there were people with disabilities—kids in wheelchairs, adults in manual wheelchairs, and seniors in electric wheelchairs, not to mention all the people with canes and walkers. Even though Disneyland has made it harder to get a disability pass, the disability lines at the exits of most rides were substantial, although still quicker and easier to negotiate than the regular lines.
The reason why so many people with disabilities visit Disneyland is much more than it being simply a fun destination – they really “get it” when it comes to making people with disabilities feel comfortable. Every “cast member” as they call their staff, is trained on disability awareness, from the guy in the parking lot to the lady playing the role of Ariel the mermaid. We expect the ride operators to ask about Danny’s ability to transition from his stroller to the ride, but not necessarily the hostess in the restaurant, and yet she knew to ask.
Since the passage of the American Disabilities Act (ADA), the Disney people have done their best to make their rides as accessible as possible, but since many of the classic rides, such as the Fantasyland rides from the various movies (Peter Pan, Snow White, etc.) were built in 1955 when the park first opened, the exits are very narrow, making it very tricky to have people exiting and entering in the same space, yet they find a way to make it happen. Today, cast members came out and helped with the lines when needed, and made sure there was room for all the various types of mobility equipment.
I was most impressed that Cast Members were able to remember who belonged to which stroller/wheelchair, and had ours waiting for us at the end of the ride (a shout out to the guy at the Nemo ride!). Another nice moment was when the staff on the parade route were cool with letting Danny stay in his stroller and not transfer to the bench even though the other people around us in wheelchairs had made the switch to reduce the crowding in the area.
So, what are the take-away lessons for the Jewish community, especially during February, Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month?
1) Everyone in the organization needs to be trained in disability awareness, especially the staff in the parking lot, security guards and receptionists
2) Don’t go to “no” as a first response. If someone is asking for an accommodation, be creative and try to come up with a solution before worrying about the expense or lack of specialized staff
3) Treat each person with disabilities as an individual and try to avoid rules or regulations that disregard personal preferences
With a little more effort, maybe there can be more families and adults singing “Hi-ho, Hi-ho, it’s off to shul we go!”
PS. Please check out all the wonderful events happening in Los Angeles during Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month and take the inclusion pledge here.