Ten years ago, was established in February. In the decade since, it has brought Jewish communities and organizations together in a unified effort that has placed disabilities and inclusion on the national Jewish agenda.
Coincidently, around this time, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore completed its 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study, which looked at characteristics, behaviors and attitudes of our community. And, interestingly, it found that 15 percent of Baltimore Jewish households had sought help for a learning, developmental or physical disability.
What transpired next was a concerted effort in Baltimore to tackle this issue head-on through the work of The Associated’s Caring Commission, an understanding that in order for our community to thrive in a way that maximizes the skills of all its members, we needed to prioritize inclusion.
Today, The Associated and its agencies offer a wide range of programs and initiatives to ensure those with disabilities, and their families, can flourish. Educational assistance is available through programs like SHEMESH and the Macks Center for Jewish Education, which offer everything from in-school support for learning differences to IEP (individualized education program) assistance, advocacy and testing.
At the same time, Jewish Community Services helps families navigate a system that can, at times, be more than challenging and time consuming. The agency offers job training and supported employment for those with disabilities. And by establishing the Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance, a supportive network that provides resources for individuals with disabilities now managed by the JCC, we are making information and services more accessible.
Yet, we know that additional work is needed.
This year, we have been charged with co-chairing a new disability committee for The Associated to listen to what people need, better understand what programs are available and investigate initiatives to fill gaps in services. And we want to continue to utilize our resources in the policy world to make our voices heard.
As someone with an adult child with a disability and as someone who works for an organization that helps those with developmental disabilities, we can bring our personal insights to the process.
We are so fortunate to live in Jewish Baltimore, a vibrant community that prioritizes all individuals.
Janet Livingston and Dara Schnee are co-chairs of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s disability committee.