“Do not disdain any person… for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing without its place in the sun.” That was what Rabbi Ben Azzai taught (Pirkei Avot 4:3), and it was the message that a group of Canadian activists and advocates from Jewish organizations around the country brought to members of Parliament Feb. 21 as part of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.  For our first Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, Canadian Jewish leaders from Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Calgary and Vancouver brought the lenses of both Jewish values and Canadian values to our government to champion disability rights.

And the message was received. As we met with six members of parliament and two Cabinet ministers, we heard a strong shared commitment to inclusion, and to making sure disabilities legislation helps all Canadians. “You’re the experts.  We need your input and understanding, said Minister Carla Qualtrough, after a dialogue that covered the upcoming still-to-be-drafted Canadians With Disabilities Act legislation. We shared stories of families stymied by waiting lists, barriers to employment, and lack of access.  We also shared some stories of successes – in making our communities, our synagogues, our Jewish life more open and inclusive to all.

Specifically, we advocated for

  • The Canadians with Disabilities Act, with a specific focus on accountability and enforcement
  • Ways to expand tax benefits for people with disabilities and caregivers
  • Service loss due to jurisdictional transition or aging out of support
  •  Criteria for permanent residency so that people with disabilities and their families are not unfairly prevented from living in Canada
  • Ensuring that federal infrastructure spending on affordable housing addresses the needs of people with disabilities

“In the spirit of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, this initiative seeks to break down barriers and advance inclusion and accommodation for all Canadians with disabilities, their families and caregivers”, says Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

As a group, we are fired up. There is much work to be done in our country. This group and others in the Jewish Community will testify on parliament hill and continue advocating for all Canadians, and also speaking to some unique challenges faced by Canada’s Jewish community.  As Linda Kislowicz, President & CEO, Jewish Federations of Canada –UIA (JFC-UIA) noted, “Today’s visit, which we intend to turn into an annual event, includes Canadian Jewish leaders from across Canada who represent almost every Canadian Jewish community active in community based and residential aspects of the disabilities field.”

We will meet together in Toronto in April 2018, together with advocates and activists from around the country for the Pushing the Boundaries, the first Canadian Jewish National Conference on Accessibility and Inclusion.  We will push the boundaries in our communities, within our Canadian society, and within ourselves.

Delegates for Jewish Disability Advocacy Day in Canada included:

  • Linda Kislowicz – President & CEO, Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA, National
  • Bryan Keshen – President and CEO at REENA, Toronto
  • Gary Gladstone – Principal, Gladstone Consulting, Toronto
  • Liviya Mendelsohn – Manager, Accessibility and Inclusion at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre – ‎UJA Federation of Greater Toronto
  • Judy Shapiro – Associate Executive Director , Calgary Jewish Federation
  • Daniel Amar – Executive Director at Miriam Home and Services, Montreal
  • Connie Putterman – Parent, Research Advocate, Toronto
  • Susie Sokol – Co-Founder,  Dani-Toronto
  • Andrea Gardner – ‎Assistant Executive Director at Jewish Family Services of Ottawa
  • Dr. Gail Krivel Zacks – Registered psychologist, educational consultant & clinical counsellor specializing in services for children, Vancouver
  • Kim Coulter – President and CEO of JVS Toronto
  • Barb Babij – CEO, Hamilton Jewish Federation
  • Richard Marceau – General Counsel and Senior Government Advisor, CIJA, Ottawa
  • Allyson Grant – Assistant Director, Government Relations and University Outreach, CIJA, Toronto

Liviya Mendelsohn is the Inclusion Director at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and the Accessibility and Inclusion Manager at the Miles Nadal JCC.