When we hear of someone who is different, someone who has a physical or mental disability, many people feel uncomfortable and create barriers in their perception. The Ruderman family has devoted their considerable time, skills and resources not only to helping people with disabilities, but also to helping everyone else to understand how much we gain by incorporating them into our lives instead, and not pushing them away.
Every two years, the Ruderman Family Foundation convenes the Ruderman Inclusion Summit – bringing together world class disability professionals and advocates. Shari Levy, a member of the JDC Board, and I spent two days in Boston with a JDC international delegation and participated in lectures and discussions on the importance of inclusion.
Avital Sandler Loeff who runs Israel Unlimited (part of JDC –Israel) brought representatives from the Israel Ministries of Health, Social Services & Finance and from Israel National Insurance to learn about models that exist in the United States. JDC staff from around the world joined as well to learn and share best practices with the goal of enhancing JDC’s global work with Jews and others with disabilities.
There were many revealing examples of the power of inclusion.
Shari brought in one of the key national leaders of Camp Ramah. Through their Tikvah program, teens with disabilities participate in regular. We are hoping to connect them to JDC’s international summer camp at Szarvas, Hungary.
Think College is an initiative in the United States that advocates helping disabled people to get into college. The challenge is fascinating: to show that even though people with certain mental disabilities cannot achieve the same level of academic success, they will be adding to the college experience significantly through their enhanced levels of engagement in community life. Another speaker runs a program for disabled students in the hope that they can enlist in the army after they graduate.
We heard from Ari Ne’eman, an American autism activist who co-founded the Autism Self Advocacy Network and was nominated by President Barak Obama to the National Council on Disability.
We watched an incredible Israeli movie, My Hero Brother, about a group of young people with Down syndrome who embark on a demanding trip through the Indian Himalayas, accompanied by their “normal” brothers and sisters. The complexities of growing up with a Down syndrome child in the family come to surface in the film, while a heart-warming and special closeness develops among the siblings as they deal with formidable physical and emotional challenges.
Randy Lewis started an inclusion facility at Walgreens that employs people with different disabilities – 20% of the workers are disabled. Lewis was driven by the story of his own son, who is autistic and could not find employment. In his book No Greatness without Goodness, he describes his road in guiding his business to be inclusive and to look at disabled people as part of the company.
We learned about the inclusion in different realms. On the issue of housing, for example, research shows that a person is happier when he or she lives in a home and not an institution. However, there are still countries and communities that routinely institutionalize people with disabilities, which separates them from society at large. Amazingly, arranging the proper support that would allow most people with disabilities to live at home would not only benefit society at large, but would also see significant cost benefits.
JDC’s Avital Sandler-Loeff gave a presentation on the topic of inclusive housing in Israel, which is years behind in this area in terms of common practice and law. The delegation from the Israeli government visited different model programs. The challenge that we face in Israel is to create a supportive system, and JDC is driving the change that needs to happen.
We heard from Clayton French who started an organization in Los Angeles called Angel City Games, which is the leading Paralympic sports movement in southern California, creating sports opportunities for anyone with physical disabilities.
Marlee Matlin opened the summit. She is deaf, and spoke to a crowd of 1500 about the importance of diversity in film and television when it comes to including disabled individuals.
The summit concluded with Mandy Harvey, an incredibly talented singer who is deaf. She spoke and performed and left us all in awe.
Shari and I were thrilled to represent JDC Ambassadors and Board members at the Summit. “I was impressed by Avital and the other JDC staffers who are passionately determined to make JDC, as an institution, inclusive to all,” said Shari. “By adopting this philosophy as a core value, JDC can attempt to incorporate inclusivity in all its programs.”
I want to thank JDC and the Ruderman Foundation for their work and commitment to inclusion, innovation and leadership in the area of disabilities. The drivers of change are people who care, and I believe we can make a real and tangible difference for millions of people through this work and by spreading the word.
For more information about JDC’s work with disabilities around the world, contact Sarah Groner firstname.lastname@example.org