Throughout February, Jewish Residential Services will mark Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month with an array of activities.
Established in 2009 by the Jewish Special Education International Consortium, and celebrated worldwide, JDAIM is a unified effort among Jewish organizations and communities to bolster awareness and inclusion for people with disabilities and their loved ones.
Nancy Gale, JRS’ executive director, described the month as an opportunity to learn more about issues facing people with disabilities, what barriers exist and best practices for disability inclusion in faith communities and daily life.
On Feb. 16, Jillian Zacks, a local attorney and estate planning expert, will receive the Shore-Whitehill Award, an annual award created in 1996 and presented by JRS and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to volunteers who promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the fabric of the Jewish community.
After the ceremony, Zacks — who was nominated by Achieva and Jewish Family and Community Services for her dedication to working for and with people with disabilities — will join other panelists, including those from Achieva and JFCS, for a discussion about helping children transition into adulthood. Event organizers encouraged parents of children with disabilities to attend.
On Feb. 24, Jewish Federations of North America and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are holding Jewish Disability Advocacy Day. The annual event, which will occur virtually, brings together members of Congress and disability advocates to discuss policy, inclusion efforts and legislative goals.
This year, the focus of Jewish Disability Advocacy Day is economics, Gale said.
According to the World Bank, 1 billion people, or 15% of the global population, experience some form of disability. Those with disabilities are more likely to experience poorer health, lower levels of employment and greater rates of poverty.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that full-time, year-round workers with a disability earn 87 cents on the dollar against those with no disability. The problem with that number, though, the agency noted, is that those with a disability are less likely to earn a full-time wage; therefore, the overall earnings gap is higher if one includes all workers “regardless of work schedules or occupation.” Ultimately, what the data suggests is that workers with a disability only earn 66 cents on the dollar against those with no disability, according to the bureau.
Gale said the implications of those findings and similar statistics — of the 61 million Americans living with disabilities, nearly 26% live in poverty — will be addressed throughout the daylong program.
As a lead-up to Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, there will be an opening ceremony on Feb. 23 where participants can learn from fellow advocates and members of Congress about various obstacles and financial barriers facing people with disabilities and their families.
Attendees of both events will receive tools and coaching to help implement future change, Gale said.
On Feb. 28, JRS, RespectAbility and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh will host a webinar highlighting how inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace is good for the community and business. Panelists will include Jeremy Shapira, chief inclusion, equity and diversity officer at Giant Eagle, Inc., and Lee Chernotsky, chief encouragement officer at ROSIES Foundation. Becky Johnson, director of the Career Development Center at JFCS, will moderate the event.
Throughout the month, JRS will use its social media accounts to profile individuals with disabilities and their experience in the workforce.
Each of the programs is a chance for Pittsburghers to learn more about the importance of disability inclusion, Gale said.
“As a local leader in services for people with disabilities, JRS is excited to partner with others about the importance of disability inclusion,” she added. “Our goal is to ensure that disability inclusion is the norm in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Pittsburgh community, not only in February, but throughout the year.”
JRS staffer Allison Karabin agreed, saying, “I’m pleased to see that interest in JDAIM has been steadily increasing, both locally and nationally, but there is still work to do. The folks that are committed to disability inclusion locally are doing a great job, but I wish that there were more people and organizations doing this.”
Karabin hopes that with continued interest in disability awareness and inclusion Pittsburgh can truly become a city for all.
“I really believe that the future of our community depends on how well we create a culture of inclusion and belonging,” she said. “We cannot have a strong and growing community without looking at disability when we talk about diversity.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.