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.
More than 550 activists in the field of inclusion for people with disabilities from around the world came together for the Ruderman Family Foundation’s first-ever international Inclusion Summit, which took place in Boston on November 1st and 2nd.
The Ruderman Foundation has been pushing for inclusion of people with disabilities since 2002, providing funding, leadership and expertise in the area, including last spring’s partnership with The Jewish Week Media Group, the Ruderman “Best in Business” supplement highlighting ten exemplary companies that train, hire and support people with disabilities. But according to president Jay Ruderman, this summit aims to unite the entire Jewish community around the common goal:
“My job is philanthropy, and a lot of it is done from top to bottom, meaning that a philanthropist or an NGO has a great idea and they try to impose that idea on society, for the benefit of society,” he said in The Jerusalem Post. “What we are trying to do is build a movement from the bottom up. That’s the whole idea behind the summit.”
The Summit began with the presentation of the Morton E. Ruderman Award In Inclusion being awarded to Senator Tom Harkin, who was the driving force behind the Americans With Disabilities Act. Harkin was clear that the work of the ADA is not over and that the issue of employment for people with disabilities must be moved forward.
The summit included powerful plenary talks, including athlete-advocate Loretta Claiborne and award-winning journalist John Hockenberry. Smaller sessions allowed participants to meet and work together on specific issues including education, housing, employment, community, and religious life.
The Summit has concluded but the work continues as participants return to their communities across the States, Israel, Canada, Mexico, UK and Australia. Some essential take-aways from the Summit:
Inclusion benefits everyone: In Ted-style talks, self-advocates described being marginalized in home, school and community settings, and the powerful ways that their lives changed with inclusive opportunities. Filmmaker and activist Dan Habib shared statistics about the benefits of inclusion, not only for the person with disabilities, but for every person.
Be mindful of language: A break-out session on the power of language raised consciousness about the way that people with disabilities have been talked about. Participants recognized three words that they hope to see go away: "inspirational", "special" and "challenged." When someone is described as "inspirational," it is still a way of separating him/her from simply being human.
Employment is the next frontier: From Sen. Harkin's address forward, the Summit focused on the issue of employment and how the community needs to mobilize to create new job opportunities and training for people with disabilities.
"We're still talking about including humans in human activity": This powerful quote by disability self-advocate Keith Jones raised awareness that many people with disabilities are still being treated as less than human beings in the way that they are educated, being housed and given no choices for their futures–here and across the world. Disability rights are civil rights.
Continue the conversation: A two-day summit is has impact, but ongoing dialogue in every community is essential. We hope you'll continue to read, comment, contribute to and share "The New Normal" blogs for a variety of perspectives on disability and Jewish community.