Jewish Journal

Disability Rights Are Civil Rights

by Michelle K. Wolf

February 14, 2013 | 10:57 pm

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”.

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