Baltimore Marks Jewish Disability Awareness Month

Ben Dubin, second from left, and the Baltimore delegation advocate for disability awareness and inclusion on Capitol Hill. (Provided)

Any resume that includes a master’s degree from George Washington University, the honor of Phi Beta Kappa from Goucher College and fluency in Russian, French, Hebrew and English is more than impressive.

Imagine making these accomplishments while being “profoundly deaf.” Such is the experience of Washington, D.C., resident Rachel Dubin, 41.

For her father, Ben Dubin, Rachel’s struggles have made advocacy a key part of his life for decades. Dubin, a Baltimore County resident, has served as the vice-chair of Baltimore County’s Commission on Disabilities for the past 18 years. He is also the treasurer of Shemesh, a Baltimore-based program providing support to Jewish children with learning differences.

On Feb. 6, Dubin and many other Jewish advocates for people with disabilities attended the Jewish Federations of North America Jewish Disability Advocacy Day in Washington D.C., as part of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. This February marks the 10th anniversary of JDAIM. In addition to the day in Washington, a variety of events have been planned for the Baltimore area.

Lee Sherman, Baltimore native and CEO of the National Human Services Assembly, based in Washington, D.C., says Advocacy Day draws a diverse group of attendees including professionals, advocates for the disabled and disabled persons themselves. “Some of the most articulate people in the room are some of the people with disabilities because they have their personal stories.”

The headlining issue of this year’s Advocacy Day is House Bill 2902, the IDEA Full Funding Act. While IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is not a new piece of legislation, the federal government is only providing 15 percent of the funding that goes toward the expenses of teaching children with disabilities. In the IDEA legislation from 1990, Congress set the federal government’s contributions to max out at 40 percent; the amendment would give Congress 10 years to reach that commitment.

“There are plenty of examples across the federal government of programs that are not fully funded,” Sherman said. “There’s the legislation that says, ‘Here’s what we want you to do,’ and then there’s the appropriations piece that says, ‘Here’s the money to do it.’” Sherman added that getting appropriations from Congress has never been an easy task.

Despite the challenge, Sherman feels optimistic about getting the bill passed. “It has support from both sides of the aisle. When you’re talking about persons with disabilities, you do get bipartisan support.”

Dubin’s experience on Advocacy Day was slightly different. He met with legislative aides for two Maryland congressmen, and although Dubin did not mention either by name, during an interview he said the support for IDEA was divided, seemingly, on party lines.

Dubin, who has advocated for the disabled on both the federal and state levels, feels Baltimore County has maintained adequate support for special education students despite the lack of funding from the federal government. “In Baltimore County, we have inclusion, so children with disabilities are in the same classroom as children without disabilities.”

In addition to Baltimore County Public Schools, Dubin has seen excellent support from the Jewish community. He is a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and over the years has promoted accessibility at the synagogue.

“We have hearing loops, we have ramps, we have automatic doors, we stream our services so you can watch them on the Web, we provide large-print prayer books,” he said. “During High Holidays, if someone wants the rabbi’s sermon in text because they’re hearing impaired, they provide their sermons.”

“Something like 10 percent of the population has a disability,” Dubin added. “We have to fight for the resources.”

In addition to advocacy day, the Baltimore area will host about a dozen events in accordance with JDAIM.

Each Monday for the remainder of the month, the Center for Jewish Education at 5708 Park Heights Ave. will host Intro to American Sign Language courses. Classes begin at 7:30 p.m.and cost $40.

During all regular business hours on Feb. 18-23, Reisterstown Road neighbors Tov Pizza and Kosher Bite will donate a percentage of their proceeds to Shemesh programs.

On Feb. 24, the Gordon Center for Performing Arts at the Owings Mills JCC will host the Axis Dance Company, a performance ensemble featuring dancers with and without disabilities. Tickets range from $20 to $35. The show begins at 8 p.m.

For more information about events and fundraisers during JDAIM, visit baltimore.



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