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Jewish Disability Awareness Month: Reflecting and Looking Ahead

Jewish Disability Awareness Month: Reflecting and Looking Ahead

JDAMlogo2011.JPGJewish Disability Awareness Month has led to meaningful and mindful programming throughout the month of February, across the country. It is a testament to the power of the Jewish Disability Network, convened in 2006 by Rabbi Lynne Landsberg of the Religious Action Center and Amy Aarons Rosen of the United Jewish Communities (and now by David Feinman of The Jewish Federations of North America), that the entire Jewish community has embraced this budding annual tradition. The leadership of the JDN has enabled local and national Jewish organizational engagement on disability rights issues and led to our community's strong advocacy for the passage of the 2008 Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) and other critical pieces of legislation for persons with disabilities that have yet to become law.

At the National Council of Jewish Women, we have observed the month by looking inward as well as at our legislative agenda, striving to ensure that our meetings and events across the country are accessible and radically inclusive and that our advocacy efforts align with the work of the broader disability rights movement. 

That's why we were so proud to co-sponsor a briefing for members of Congress and their staffs to recognize Jewish Disability Awareness Month on February 15, hosted by the Religious Action Center and The Jewish Federations of North America. The briefing featured disability community advocates and civil rights champions who spoke about the community's agenda for the current session of Congress. The panelists discussed the many current fronts in the battle for full emancipation for persons with disabilities in this country. They briefed attendees about the rampant unemployment rate, our society's ongoing efforts to fulfill the legal obligation to full and equal access to public education, and the challenges of ensuring community-based care and putting an end to mass institutionalization of persons with disabilities. 
While the remarks of all of the panelists, and those introducing them were extremely informative and inspiring, one comment has stuck with me in the interim days. During his portion of the briefing, Curt Decker, Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network reminded us that most of us are all able-bodied only until we experience a disability in our lives. We are able-bodied only temporarily. 
 The great civil rights movements in our country have been spurred by those who believe in the core principles of our democracy and humanity: that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law and that those most in need in our society are those who are most deserving of supports, legal protections and equality. 
The significant Jewish communal involvement in these movements, engagement that has made me so proud to be part of the American Jewish community, has always come from a place of understanding our core religious mandates - to love our neighbors as ourselves, to pursue justice, to continue the work, even if we cannot complete it. When it comes to disability rights, there is a unique dimension of self-interest for nearly every member of our community, because, as Curt Decker reminds us, we are all able-bodied only until we experience a disability in our lives. 
I have felt a great pride in our community during the celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, especially during the briefing on Capitol Hill. Let us hope that we will make Jewish Disability Awareness Month so effective in the years to come, that we will soon have no need for it. 
Elissa Froman advocates for disability rights and other policy issues as a Senior Legislative Associate at the National Council of Jewish Women. She is a former Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where her portfolio also included disability rights.

Published: 2/28/2011

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