Over the past decade, there has been a national effort to raise awareness about individuals with disabilities. Months like Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month and National Disability Awareness Month bring the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities to the forefront, as well as remind us of the importance of including them in all aspects of daily life.
As a parent of a child with a disability, I applaud these national efforts. Yet I, and I know others, understand that creating a welcoming and inclusive community for all people with disabilities must be a year-round priority — and must be embraced by an entire community.
Today, there are approximately 60 million Americans living with a disability. In Jewish Baltimore, according to the 2020 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study, three in 10 Jewish households include at least one person with some type of health issue, special need or disability. With this in mind, many of us cross paths with individuals with disabilities daily.
Yet, despite this prevalence, as the parent of an adult with autism, I continue to see barriers for individuals with disabilities. Opportunities for employment and housing are of great concern to all, yet especially difficult for those with disabilities. Being able to participate in social activities, sports, health and fitness and other aspects of daily life are not easily accessible to those with disabilities.
Fortunately, in Jewish Baltimore, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore has made a commitment to making Jewish life welcoming to individuals with disabilities. And through its network of agencies, The Associated is providing critical services and support to individuals living with disabilities so they can reach their full potential.
The Associated is there from the first diagnosis, developing infant and toddler plans to ensure that every child gets off to a good start. We help with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and 504 service plans so every child will have the best education possible, and we provide educational support for children with learning differences in Jewish preschools and day schools so they will reach their full academic potential.
It is also there for teens and adults with disabilities who receive job coaching, assistance with resume writing, internship connections and employment opportunities so that everyone can be successful at work. And we offer inclusion opportunities at camp, as well as residential support services for adults with developmental disabilities and chronic mental illness to live as independently as possible.
The Associated’s Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance is a tremendous resource for information and services all around Baltimore for individuals with disabilities, and the people who care about them.
I am reminded of Judith Heumann, who recently passed away. Judith never let her disability stand in the way, a trailblazer who fought for disability rights for herself and the community.
Judith, who was once told she couldn’t attend nursery school because her wheelchair was a fire hazard, showed us that having a disability doesn’t preclude one from being successful and making a difference. It’s a reminder that we all have something to offer. And disabilities should not stand in the way.
We know that there is always more that we can do. That’s why The Associated recently surveyed individuals with disabilities and their loved ones about what else we could do in our community. The results will translate into efforts that will help create access and a welcoming environment for all. Inclusion, as we know, makes Jewish Baltimore richer.
We’ve come a long way over the past few decades. And I believe we will continue toward our goal in Jewish Baltimore for everyone to be cared for, welcomed and accepted.
Janet Behrend Livingston is the disability and inclusion thought partner for The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore and board member of Jewish Community Services. She is also the proud parent of an adult son with autism.