Consensus-building can be difficult, as getting disparate groups to agree on a common goal does not come easily. When the organized Jewish community is part of the equation, the process can be laborious, and may even become quite emotional, as so much of our Jewish identity is wrapped up in community. But Feb. 6 will be different.
For the first time, the North American Jewish community will be united in its goal of redoubling its efforts to include people with disabilities in our community structures, programs and organizations.
On Feb. 6, professional, volunteer and family representatives of Jewish human service agencies, local federations, synagogues, advocacy groups and national organizations will come together in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa to advocate for enhanced policies that will support and strengthen individuals with disabilities and their families.
Scheduled to coincide with Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and the Jewish Federation of North America and the Religious Action Center for Reform Juadism’s Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD), the Ottawa conference will bring together Jewish communal leaders, individuals with disabilities and their families for education, advocacy and one-on-one sessions with elected officials. In Canada, the event is being organized by Jewish Federations of Canada–UIA and its advocacy agent, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. The Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, a newly established membership organization serving as the central agency for the Jewish human service sector, is honoured to serve as one of many co-sponsoring organizations of both programs.
These advocacy days come at a time when, despite marked efforts by the Jewish community to strengthen services for individuals with disabilities, there is deep recognition that our governments must invest in core services such as housing, education and employment, and that the respective social policy agenda for each country must create the context for change. We are advocating for this at a time when access, resources and comprehensive services for individuals with disabilities are at risk, in both the United States and Canada.
In the U.S., the JDAD event will highlight the need to protect Medicaid. With the recognition that the U.S. Congress came within one vote of making drastic and permanent cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicaid in 2017, there is a consensus among the advocates that Medicaid is an essential, lifesaving resource that supports 10 million Americans with disabilities, which account for 15 per cent of total Medicaid recipients. Medicaid funding also pays for services and supports that allow people with disabilities to live and work in their communities.
JDAD advocacy efforts will also address support for the IDEA Full Funding Act (H.R. 2902), which would ensure sufficient funding for special education services and level the playing field for children with disabilities by providing them with full access to a quality education.
In Ottawa, there are four key areas of focus that will be discussed with parliamentarians:
- advancing federal inclusion and accessibility legislation;
- prioritizing affordable housing options for people with disabilities;
- revising Canada’s medical inadmissibility policy, which prevents people with disabilities and their families from immigrating to Canada; and
- advocating for legislation to remove employment disincentives for people with disabilities.
While the specific legislative advocacy needs are different in each country, the underlying goal of both days is to bring us back to consensus, as one united continent working together in one large-scale Jewish communal effort. Individuals with disabilities are a core constituency in both countries. Their contributions to their families, their communities, their schools, their places of employment – and, most importantly, to themselves – deserves our full respect, and they deserve full access and to be fully included in society and in the community.
Our goal is to transform our communities by expanding our tent and enabling people of all abilities.
There is much in today’s society that separates us – religion, economic access and political ideology, to name a few. The consensus fostered by the continental Jewish communal response on disability advocacy and inclusion should be celebrated, and applauded, as a model for other coalition efforts.
In Canada, this effort will continue in April with a conference called Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion and Jewish Community. And in the U.S., so many communities are noting Jewish Disabilities and Awareness Inclusion Month with a full range of activities and offerings.
Please join us in February and beyond. Find a place for consensus in your communities and take a look around and make a deliberate effort to be sure to include people with disabilities and their families.
Building awareness opens us up to understanding. Understanding leads to consciousness, which leads to change. Our goal is to transform our communities by expanding our tent and enabling people of all abilities to reach their potential and participate fully. Our communities deserve no less.
Reuben D. Rotman is president and CEO of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies. Linda Kislowicz is president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of Canada.