Jewish Disability Awareness Month

Today’s lovely participant blog post comes from Eliza Baskin, a participant of the Yahel Social Change Program. This group is living, learning and volunteering in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rishon LeZion for 9 months this year.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) recognized by the Consortium of Jewish Special Educators. Having had the opportunity to work at a school for students with disabilities this is a topic close to my heart. When I first began my morning volunteer placement, at Belkind school, I would have never imagined how much of an impact it would have one me. Since getting to work hands on with some of the most magnificent children I have ever met I have learned an incredible amount. And while the children may think of me as a teacher, really and truly I learn more from them on a daily basis than I could ever teach. One extremely important element of working with students with disabilities is the idea of accessibility and inclusion. Many Jewish scriptures and Jewish traditions emphasize ideas of inclusivity, collaboration, and responsibility. Along with the power of technology today, we have a great amount of resources available to ensure those things can happen.

Jewish Disability Awareness Month combines its focus on inclusion and accessibility with ideas regarding technology. I have seen first hand at school how products that are used on a daily basis are not always the most inclusive and accessible to people with various disabilities. Technology is such a big part of our lives and to be able to level the playing field would allow everyone to access information. While barriers are not always intentional, they do happen if we are not mindful. JDAM allows us a time to think about those possible barriers and emphasizes that there are no limits or boundaries regarding accessibility.

The Torah states, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person” (Leviticus 19:14).

This quote proves that it is our job, as a Jewish peoplehood, to be active and aware of our actions and their implications. We can be mindful and proactive in removing stigmas and obstacles that surround the disabled rights community, and while a stumbling block may not always be placed intentionally it can most definitely be removed with purpose.

As technology advances and evolves we could all consider being a little more conscious of the needs of people with disabilities. By being inclusive and providing adequate accessibility we are enabling all people to be able to have the same opportunities as everyone else. JDAW is promoting ideas such as installing ramps, banisters, and chairlifts, live streaming religious services to those who are homebound, utilizing sing language interpreters, closed captioning, utilizing assisted-listening devices, maintaining large-print and/or Braille books, and more. These things can help promote the framework of inclusivity and give validity to the premise that persons of all abilities have great importance in all realms of life. Just as the prophet Isaiah describes the house of prayer for “all people”, why don’t we all focus more on applying that to all aspects of life? So while the 28 days of February may be devoted to helping raise awareness and foster inclusion- It can, and should continue year round.

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