“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
On May 8, leading philanthropists and funders, representatives of umbrella Jewish organizations, inclusion experts and advocates will gather in New York for the third ADVANCE: The Ruderman Jewish Disabilities Funding Conference.
The goal of the conference is for funders to be exposed to the concept of inclusive funding and encourage programs they support to become more inclusive. People with disabilities comprise approximately 20 percent of the Jewish community and we need to ensure they are supported and fully included in Jewish communal life.
We are not advocating that philanthropists stop funding their current projects and switch to exclusively supporting programs which are fully inclusive of people with disabilities. Just the opposite! Our aim is to show funders how projects they advocate for can become more inclusive, can reach out and help more people.
This year’s conference will highlight all points in the lifecycle of people with disabilities. Some of the sessions will look at:
Birth to age 5 Inclusive childcare settings, with the possibility of early intervention, means exposure to different types of children which can set the foundation for inclusion later in life.
Elementary and high school More public and private schools are providing an inclusive environment where typically developing students learn alongside students with disabilities. Many parents are demanding these types of programs within the Jewish community and we must meet the educational and social needs of their children.
Employment According to the U.S. Department. of Labor (2010), only 20 percent of people with disabilities either are employed or are seeking employment. There is no reason to disregard the innovation and creativity they would bring to the workplace. In fact, employing more people with disabilities would benefit the economy.
Elderly People with disabilities are living longer and are outliving their families. Our community needs to explore how we can help support this increasingly growing population.
No matter the program, no matter the age of the constituents served, people with disabilities can and should be included. The conference will show funders how to accomplish this.
Philanthropists wish to fund programs which will exact real and lasting change. The inclusion of people with disabilities in society affects us all- the person with the disability, their family, friends, co-workers and community members. We cannot afford to support programs which are not inclusive; change will not happen via exclusion. We cannot tolerate leaving behind 20 percent of our community; Jewish continuity is dependent on full inclusion.
Change does not occur overnight. But by changing how funders view the programs they support, by considering how to include people with disabilities, change WILL happen. The survival of the Jewish community depends on it.
Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. The upcoming ADVANCE conference on May 8 is a partnership of the foundation with the Jewish Funders Network, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston.