Online platform promoting inclusion to launch in Pittsburgh thanks to JRS
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ConnectAbilityJewish Residential Services

Online platform promoting inclusion to launch in Pittsburgh thanks to JRS

Quarterly resource ConnectAbility seeks to offer new insight

Image by wildpixel via iStock
Image by wildpixel via iStock

ConnectAbility, a new digital resource, is coming to Pittsburgh, and Jewish Residential Services is backing the endeavor. Set to launch on Aug.12, the quarterly blog will focus on a range of issues promoting inclusion of those with disabilities, said Nancy Gale, executive director of JRS.

The digital content will include updates on local, regional and national resources for people with disabilities; advice regarding disability and inclusion etiquette; recommendations and reviews of books, films and other media that portray disabilities; a calendar of upcoming events; discussion of disability-related legislation; information on advocacy; and stories regarding individuals and their family members with disabilities.

“Our vision isn’t just to have a newsletter or a blog, but actually a quarterly disability resource for the community,” said Gale.

Currently, Pittsburgh’s Jewish community lacks such a guide, said JRS director of development and communications, Caitlin Lasky.

Several years ago, JRS and other Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh beneficiary agencies collaborated on Connections, a joint blog. Although organizations such as the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, JFCS and the Jewish Association on Aging all brought interesting perspectives to the table, said Gale, “there wasn’t one organization that had the ultimate ownership of it,” and as a result it lacked a specific focus.

Now JRS is guiding ConnectAbility, Gale said, and there is renewed energy and an eagerness to share a wealth of content and ideas with the broader community. The project gained steam after the JRS board’s approval in June of a new strategic plan, which includes a focus on helping community members become greater inclusion advocates.

Between Gale, Lasky, various program directors and an intern, there will be multiple JRS staffers contributing to ConnectAbility. While the specifics are still being fleshed out, a yearly content calendar has already been created.

The fall quarter issue will focus on High Holidays inclusion and how congregations can bolster their efforts; the winter quarter issue will arrive before February (Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month) and address awareness and advocacy; the spring quarter issue will feature content that coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month in May; and the summer quarter issue will highlight children and families and include content on camp and Friendship Circle, as well as interviews with parents of young children with disabilities.

Mara Kaplan, co-chair of Temple Sinai’s disAbility Task Force, said ConnectAbility’s commitment to interviews and storytelling is imperative.

“What changes people are stories,” she said. “Stories are what get people to listen. Statistics don’t. Laws don’t. Regulations don’t.”

Kaplan was interviewed by ConnectAbility for its debut issue. She said it was important for her to share her experiences because she believes it can make a difference.
For the past five years, much of Temple Sinai’s disAbility Task Force’s programming centered around sharing stories about what it’s like raising a child with disabilities, she said. When these stories are told, they impact listeners. Families who are raising a child with disabilities are reminded that they are not alone. Likewise, when someone who isn’t raising a child with disabilities hears these tales, they learn “that there are people in our community who have disabilities, and even though I can’t see those disabilities, this affects me.”

Richard Kaplan, Samuel Kaplan and Mara Kaplan attend a Mostly Musical Shabbat at Temple Sinai. Photo by John Schiller

Kaplan said she’s excited the greater community will be able to benefit from ConnectAbility, from congregations trying to achieve better inclusion to individuals leaning from someone else’s story.

Gale stressed that ConnectAbility “isn’t just a resource, but an open conversation about disability inclusion. We really are better off as a community by being inclusive, and that’s something we want to emphasize in all the pieces we put out.”

ConnectAbility will be shared by email and through JRS’ social media channels. Those interested in receiving the digital publication can sign up at jrspgh.org. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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