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