Supporting the disabled
Thank you for reprinting Simone Ellin’s Baltimore Jewish Times Dec. 26, 2013, article, “Inclusion of Jews with Disabilities is Focus of Inaugural Leadership Conference.” It highlights the multiple barriers to full participation in Jewish life faced by Jews living with disabilities and by their families, as well as the emerging nationwide movement among Jewish communities to promote meaningful inclusion.
Many in the Pittsburgh Jewish community recognize that an extended and concerted effort is required to create a meaningfully inclusive environment in our agencies and institutions, and in our lives. Here are some local ongoing endeavors:
• Two Jewish agencies focus exclusively on helping individuals with disabilities live successfully and participate fully in our community — and helping our community develop inclusive attitudes and practices: Jewish Residential Services (JRS) and Friendship Circle. Both organizations are in the midst of major expansion efforts.
• The Special Needs Planning Committee of the Jewish Federation, in partnership with other Jewish organizations, recently published a directory dedicated to the inclusion of youth and adults with disabilities in all aspects of Pittsburgh Jewish Life. The Community Directory for Individuals with Special Needs and Disabilities in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community provides accessibility and accommodation information for synagogues, preschools, day and religious schools, and disability related services provided by local Jewish agencies. A quarterly effort of JRS, Friendship Circle, Jewish Federation, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Agency for Jewish Learning, and the Jewish Community Center provides “news and information for a Jewish community that includes individuals with disabilities and special needs.”
• In October 2013, JFilm: The Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum and FISA Foundation sponsored Pittsburgh’s inaugural ReelAbilities: Disabilities Film Festival. ReelAbilities was created to raise awareness and appreciation of the lives and artistic expressions of people with disabilities.
• The Shore-Whitehill award, honoring a volunteer who embodies the Jewish value of inclusion for individuals of all abilities has been reinstated. The award honors a local champion of inclusion and raises community awareness and understanding of the value of inclusion to the whole community.
Like other Jewish communities, Pittsburgh has not done all we can to fully include people with disabilities into Jewish life. However, we are gathering momentum and moving along the path toward becoming the inclusive community we strive to be.
Nancy Elman, Debbie Friedman and Ilene Rinn
(The authors are respectively past president and executive director of Jewish Residential Services, and human services planning and allocations director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.)