As we are all aware, recently there has been a significant increase in hate crimes and bomb threats across the entire country. Minorities, including people with disabilities, are especially at risk not only for attacks and threats, but also for the stress and anxiety that can result from seeing what is happening around us. People with multiple minority status (i.e. people of color + disability, LBGTQ + disability, Jewish or Muslim + disability, immigrant + disability) are particularly vulnerable.
Following more than 90 recent bomb threats and 140 separate recent incidents of anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a Security Advisory. They are asking people to review the Bomb Threat Guidance provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Homeland Security; refer to the chapter on Explosive Threat Response Planning in ADL’s Security Manual Protecting Your Jewish Institution, which assists institutions in creating welcoming environments while keeping them safe; and to refer to ADL’s list of 18 Best Practices for Jewish Institutional Security.
However, while the ADL’s excellent guidance can be helpful to people of all faiths, it does not cover issues that are vital for the 56 million Americans who have a disability.
When Jewish institutions do not have inclusion committees or policies, issues of life and death that impact people with disabilities can be seriously neglected! Fully 1-in-5 Americans have a disability, and the Jewish community, due to genetic disorders and advanced paternal ages, are disproportionately impacted by disabilities.
Can you imagine if an alarm goes off at a JCC or Day School and someone cannot hear it and there is not a plan in place? Or if someone who is blind or has low vision isn’t properly helped when the alarms are simply flashing lights? Or if people who need to take medications at regular intervals are evacuated, but their medicines are left behind? Or what happens to a child with autism or adult with mental health issues if the staff is not properly trained and no system is in place?
EVERY Jewish institution needs to take disability inclusion seriously. RespectAbility has compiled some free tools and resources below to help.
The one-in-five people in America who have a disability need proactive and systematic planning in order to ensure that they have the same safety and security as everyone else. Key issues and steps include:
Anxiety, Addiction and Emotional Health: Even for people who do not have ongoing mental health issues and who are nowhere near bomb threats or hate crimes, the content of social and other media can be extremely frightening. Emotional reactions can include feeling physically and mentally drained, having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics, becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis, arguing more with family and friends, feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried, and experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time. It is important to try to accept whatever reactions you may have and to look for ways to take one step at a time and focus on taking care of your needs and those of your family. Keep a particularly close eye on children and people with addiction issues (including Internet addiction) who may need extra supports.
Some of the things that can significantly help your mental health are to limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of stress, especially on television, the radio, newspapers and social media, as well as to eat healthy, get ample sleep and stay personally connected to family and friends. Stay positive. Remind yourself of how you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past. Reach out when you need support and help others when they need it.
Most major cities have a Jewish social services agency, which will help people of all faiths. Additionally, the Red Cross’ Disaster Distress Helpline is free and 24/7 for counseling or support. You can call 1-800-985-5990, text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746 or utilize www.redcross.org/news/article/
Another resource is the American Counseling Association. They have fact sheets you can download on mental health services, including post traumatic-stress disorder and crisis counseling. Moreover, if you are feeling suicidal, you should reach out immediately to www.suicide.org.
Create Your Evacuation Plan and Support System: Have you been in touch with your local police station and fire department? If not, do it now. A part of the services that they provide is to keep track of the needs of residents with disabilities in times of threat or disaster. For example, if you use a wheelchair and live or work in a high-rise building, the fire department should and will literally come out for free to meet with you and create an individual plan for you in the case of a fire or other emergency.
If you have sensory, cognitive or other issues, it is vital for the police and fire department to know how to successfully support you in a time of crisis. Literally hundreds of Americans with disabilities are killed by police each year because the police have not been trained to recognize and address mental health or other disability issues. The time to have those conversations and training is BEFORE a disaster strikes. Because this issue is so important, RespectAbility has conducted a free webinar, which you can find on our website: Special Conversation with Special Olympics about Violence, Police Training and People with Disabilities.
When it comes to evacuating people with disabilities, you must plan in advance. See the National Fire Protection Association’s terrific Emergency Evacuation Planning for People with Disabilities (June 2016) athttp://www.nfpa.org/public-
Have a “To Go” Kit Ready: If your building is evacuated, you will want to have several things handy. For example, you will want to have any medications you may need to take as well as your phone and charger, glasses, hearing aids and extra batteries if you use them, supplies for a service animal you may have and more. You also will want to let your loved ones, who might worry if they see a threat on the news, know you are OK. You can do that through phone, email or social media. There are terrific resources available through FEMA at https://www.fema.gov/media-
If you use a communication device, mobility aid or service animal, what will you do if these are not available? If you require life-sustaining equipment or treatment such as a dialysis machine, find out the location and availability of more than one facility. For every aspect of your daily routine, plan an alternative procedure. Make a plan and write it down and print it out. Keep a copy of your plan in your emergency supply kits and a list of important information and contacts in your wallet.
Create a Personal Support Network: If you anticipate needing assistance, make a list of family, friends and others who will be part of your plan. Talk to these people now and ask them to be part of your support network. Share each aspect of your crisis/emergency plan with everyone in your group, including a friend or relative in another area who would not be impacted by the same emergency who can help if necessary.
If you have a cognitive, intellectual disability, or are deaf of blind, be sure to work with your employer and other key contacts to determine how to best notify you of an emergency and what instruction methods are easiest for you to follow. Always participate in exercises, trainings and emergency drills offered by your employer or landlord.
Our nation is at its best when we are welcoming, respectful and inclusive of all. As many people are, or feel, at risk, we must show exceptional love and friendship to those around us.
Special thanks to Elliot Harkavy for ideas and contacts that contributed to this piece.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the President of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. She works regularly with disability organizations, national, state and local policy leaders, workforce development professionals, media, employers, philanthropists, celebrities and faith-based organizations in order to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. Mizrahi has led numerous national polls and brought significant visibility to the issues of America’s 56 million citizens with disabilities. She is the co-author of a major toolkit on best practices on employment for people with disabilities and frequently hosts webinars on this topic. Mizrahi has published dozens of op-eds and publications on disability issues, including in USA Today, Huffington Post, The Hill and other publications. Dyslexic herself, she also knows what it means to parent a child with multiple disabilities. Reach her at JenniferM@RespectAbilityUSA.org.