Recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as one in six may have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays. This is a daunting phenomenon, but for the Jewish community, it is also an opportunity, both in the context of Jewish values and the continuity of our faith, to welcome those who have been marginalized back into our community. We must dedicate ourselves to a continuous effort to shift our thinking to ensure we recognize, appreciate, and invite individuals with disabilities and their families into the mosaic that makes up today’s Jewish world.
This week, I spoke about this important issue with more than one hundred leading Jewish philanthropists at ADVANCE: The Ruderman Jewish Disabilities Funding Conference. Co-sponsored by The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the day was dedicated to developing opportunities for these philanthropists to become more engaged in funding inclusive programming for the disability community. I was honored to address the conference on ways to advocate for persons with disabilities – with both our elected officials, and within the Jewish community.
JFNA and our partners – including advocates representing a broad range of Jewish communities, religious streams, social service providers and public policy organizations – work day in and day out with policy makers on Capitol Hill and in the Obama Administration to further the goals of ensuring individuals with disabilities can lead healthy, independent lives.
For individuals with disabilities who are aspiring for healthy, independent lives, this is a particularly critical time. The unemployment rates we associate with the slow recovery from the Great Recession pale in comparison to the persistent lack of employment opportunities that have ever been available to the disability community. The disincentive for individuals receiving disability benefits to work in order to maintain those benefits, and the inability for those relying on those benefits it to build assets, makes upward mobility even more difficult. The growing challenge for non-profit agencies to provide home- and community-based care makes independent living for many individuals with disabilities an impossibility.
That is why, as we continue to advocate for improved policies and initiatives that enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families, we encourage all to recognize these critical needs and support the cause, including attendees of the ADVANCE Conference and other philanthropists interested in working with the disability community. We know that only through a happy marriage of public and private initiatives and program funding can we truly achieve success on behalf of those with disabilities and their families.
This collaborative work is critical to raise awareness of the needs, strengths, opportunities and challenges of individuals with disabilities in our communities and to ensure we are building more inclusive communities that celebrate everyone among us. Each and every one of us has a Jewish neshama (soul) that it is incumbent upon the Jewish community to help blossom. Only by welcoming everyone with respect and dignity, and by celebrating our diversity, will we create a true sense of unity.
William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of the Jewish Federations of North America, is a leading advocate for the American Jewish community’s agenda in the nation’s capitol. As the chief lobbyist and principal spokesperson on public policy and international affairs for the 154 Jewish federations and more than 300 independent communities, Daroff ensures that the voice of Jewish federations is a prominent force on Capitol Hill and in the Executive Branch. He can be found on Twitter at @Daroff