Chanukah, Tzedakah And Inclusion
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Chanukah, Tzedakah And Inclusion

In the season of year-end giving, here are ways to consider how all nonprofits can support inclusion

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.

1 in 5 people have a disability. Courtesy of RespectAbility
1 in 5 people have a disability. Courtesy of RespectAbility

Given it’s the Chanukah season, and getting towards the end of the secular year, I know that many of us are donating tzedakah—a Hebrew word literally meaning justice or righteousness.

Given that so much of the giving is religiously inspired, I look at some other Jewish precepts of big meaning. To me nothing is more important than that all of us—including those with disabilities—are equal in G-d’s eyes.  Thus, as you give to what I hope will be several worthy causes, I hope that you will ensure that the groups you support—no matter the cause—do include people with disabilities. This is much easier said than done.

Below are some questions that I ask of a wide range of nonprofits before I donate to them. I simply send them a list of questions and then discuss their responses with them. I hope these questions will help you in your own philanthropy as you work l’tikkun h’olam (mend the world). After all, fully one-in-five people have a disability. Thus, no matter if you want to support a school, synagogue, arts center, sports project, senior center or anything else, people with disabilities are impacted and should be included as equals. In all our tzedakah we have the opportunity to make the world a better place for people of all abilities.

Here are the questions that I ask:

1) What is the mission of the organization?

2) What are their results/performance metrics?

3) If you support their organization, what difference would it make?

4) Does the organization have policies that support meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels?  If not, what efforts are underway to develop them?

5) Does their organization have a disability advisory committee/inclusion/diversity committee?  If so, what is some of their progress? If not, what efforts are underway to ensure that their organization reflects the community at large and is inclusive?

6) Do all their programs and projects include people with disabilities?  If not, why not?  If more is needed to welcome, recruit and serve people with disabilities, how do they plan to achieve those goals?

7) Are their staff and key lay leaders trained in how to welcome and respect people with disabilities equally? If so, please describe. If not, are they planning to change that, and is that plan solid and realistic?

8) Describe the accessibility of their offices to people with physical disabilities.

9) Describe the accessibility of their website and social media to people with hearing and vision impairments.

10) Do they employ individuals who have disabilities?  If so, what are their jobs?  Do they receive the same compensation and benefits as all other employees in like positions?  If not, what remedial efforts are underway to make things better.

11) How do they educate their Board of Directors or Trustees about serving and partnering with people with disabilities, and their efforts to ensure that your board is diverse/represents the people they serve?

If you have better questions to ask, or want to discuss this, send me an email at JenniferM@RespectAbility.org.

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