Next month, Jewish communities around the world will be celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM).
Since 2009, February has been designated as a month to foster and promote the integration of individuals living with disabilities into Jewish life. The movement, which was founded in the United States by faith-based inclusion consultants Shelly Christensen and Lenore Layman, is now being celebrated in communities throughout North America and Europe.
Four years ago, Federation CJA became peripherally involved in bringing JDAIM events to Montreal. Last year, the organization took on the additional role of spearheading Montreal JDAIM programming, which involved 26 organizations and 23 local events. “It was a ground-breaking and transformational year on many levels for our community,” says Carly Goodman, the co-ordinator of community inclusion at Federation CJA.
Federation CJA’s commitment to including people with special needs goes well beyond JDAIM. Since 2001, the Federation has been providing inclusion grants to local organizations and has been working year-round with partners throughout the city, as well as its own agencies, to provide more services and welcoming spaces for people with disabilities.
There are approximately 16,000 people aged 15 and over living with disabilities in the Montreal Jewish community. In 2016, Federation CJA conducted a needs assessment for these individuals and their families.
“We examined where these young adults find friendships, where they go to socialize outside of a school setting, where they can find meaningful employment and housing opportunities, and how parents can navigate the whirlwind of resources and information,” says Goodman. “It allowed us as an organization to think critically about where we can have the greatest impact in the community.”
Based on this research, some recently launched initiatives include an accessibility program at the Segal Centre, which hosted its first relaxed performances this year, providing modified theatre productions for audience members with sensory sensitivities. In September, the Segal Centre also presented its first ever audio-described performance.
Then there’s the Avodah program at Camp B’nai Brith that was launched in the summer of 2018, in which young adults living with disabilities experience 10 days working at the camp, while being immersed in the summer camp experience.
Federation CJA has also developed strong partnerships with other Montreal organizations, including Summit School and the See Things My Way Centre for Innovation (supported by Miriam Foundation), in the hopes of creating a larger cultural shift towards inclusion. “Together, we are supporting capacity building for inclusion to thrive in our community in innovative ways,” says Goodman.
This year’s JDAIM will showcase some of these partnerships through pop-up shops, film screenings and workshops. The highlight of the month, says Goodman, will include a series of seminars given by Christensen that will be geared specifically toward parents, professionals and members of the public who want to learn more.
“It’s very powerful to watch this innovation in action,” says Goodman. “It’s kind of like you throw the rock into the pond and you see the ripples – that’s really what JDAIM is about – it can help to create those ripples that continue throughout the year.”