Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities through the Philadelphia Jewish community. She loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall and was chosen for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month Book Selections. She’s recently shared an ELI Talk on Standing With Families Raising Kids With Disabilities and has released a journal designed for special needs parents.
It’s Chanukah, and we’re thinking in eights. Here are eight steps we all can take towards making a more inclusive community for people of all abilities all year long.
1. Use People-First Language: The words used to describe us have an impact on our lives. One important change that many of us can make is to shift how we talk about people with disabilities — doing so helps to shift our perspectives and see the whole person. Put the person before the disability. David is a child who has autism, not an autistic child. Click here for resources to help guide you in using people-first language.
2. Read: There is so much to learn and there are amazing books — old and just released —that can expand our understanding of disability. I recommend checking out the four book selections for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness Month as a great place to start. Something for every age!
3. Connect: I remember reading a poll recently that 75% of whites don’t have any non-white friends—and was thankful that I’m in the minority 25%, having close friends from all different cultural backgrounds. I’m guessing we would discover similar results if we took a poll about how many people with no connection to disability have a friend with a disability. Social isolation can be debilitating for people who don’t always have access to transportation and other supports to join community events. If you don’t have a friend with a disability, look at your community and ask what supports need to be in place to support better social integration. As a mom of a son who has autism, I've sat outside of parties in a quiet area with my son. Some folks walking by us averted their eyes–while others came to sit and hang out with us for a bit. Imagine how you could stretch to meet someone just where they are.
4. Volunteer: There are so many wonderful programs happening to support families and individuals who need volunteer support. Check out your local Friendship Circle or ask your local Federation for a list of organizations in your area who work with people of all abilities.
5. Donate: Of course, the same goes true that many of these organizations rely on individual gifts to do the amazing work that they are doing. If your have a custom of giving tzedakah on Chanukah, remember to include an organization that supports inclusion in your giving.
6. Advocate: Legislation about disability rarely makes front page news and yet important decisions are being made, especially concerning housing and work for people with disabilities. Especially as the 1 in 68 children who has autism become adults, we need to work together to advocate for the supports that are needed. Reach out to your representatives and tell them that these issues are important to you.
7. Share: When you see or read something about disability that moves, inspires, angers or shakes you up, share it on your social media. Help to educate your friends, family and community about disability awareness.
8. Dedicate: Chanukah is not only about remembering the dedication of the Temple, but making personal dedications to what is important in our lives. Dedicate yourself to creating a more inclusive community in whatever way is possible for you and together we will work towards that dream.