Last week, the Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF) released its first “Ruderman White Paper”—a comprehensive, scholarly investigation of media coverage of disability in instances of police violence from 2013 to 2015. Its focus was to expose the lack of coverage on this important issue. New Normal editor Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer spoke with Jay Ruderman, Foundation President, about why the Foundation is supporting this kind of study.
NN: Many Jewish community members know the work of the RFF as it relates to Jewish communal life and inclusion of people with disabilities. Your recent release of the White Paper focuses on disability in a broader context. Can you share about that shift in focus?
JR: In the last few years, the Ruderman Family Foundation has grown from being a Boston-based foundation focusing on Jewish disability inclusion issues to opening offices in Israel and New York, focusing on inclusion there, as well as expanding our reach to address national issues on disability inclusion in the United States.
Last year, we convened major national disability organizations for a symposium on disability advocacy because we wanted to understand from them about the state of disability advocacy in this country and about their priorities for issues that should be addressed. We discovered that there is not enough education and awareness happening in the media on disability inclusion. We became familiar with the work of scholar/journalist David Perry who writes on disability issues and society—and one of the issues that Perry highlighted is that over the last year, as our country became more aware of police violence, that something was being left out of that story. We supported Perry and disability activist Lawrence Carter-Long’s scholarship on this issue and released the Ruderman White Paper to raise awareness that the media is missing disability in the story of police violence. Disability is part of the story in high profile victims like Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, but that part of the story hasn’t been covered.
NN: In your estimation, why is the media missing the part of the police violence story about disability?
JR: Imagine that you grew up in the United States and become a journalist. You’ve gone to separate schools from people with disabilities all of your life, you know that they live somewhere else in group homes, you didn’t see people with disabilities in your college or in your workplace—so you are not sensitized to disability issues. It’s not on your radar. The same lack of exposure applies to the police.
Police forces need better practices, policies and procedures when interacting with people with disabilities so that harm by our law enforcement authorities is prevented. Training is a necessary first step. Reforming the system follows closely behind. The rights of people with disabilities must be respected just like any other American citizen’s rights.
NN: What can the disability community learn from other civil rights movements?
JR: We see that the African-American community has been very organized about speaking out about race and police violence. We don’t want to discount the issue of race–it’s clear that as a country we haven’t come to terms with race and prejudice. The point of the Ruderman White Paper is that the issue of police violence is multi-layered, involving race and disability. As a disability community, we need to educate the media about this part of the story and we need to become better organized about speaking out. People with disabilities are the largest minority in this country and we are still living in a time when they are largely being segregated.
NN: What is the connection between Jewish values and the RFF work on disability as a civil rights issue?
JR: I see the inclusion of people with disabilities as grounded in our Jewish values. We just read in the Torah about Moses, our greatest leader, who had a speech disability. There are Jewish leaders in every field of the arts, sciences, business, and also social activism. We want to make it clear that disability rights issues are civil rights issues and become advocates in a national conversation. This became clear to us when Donald Trump mocked a New York Times reporter who has a disability and my statement about Trump’s behavior went viral.
Click here for more information on the Ruderman White Paper.
Inset Image: Jay Ruderman. Courtesy of Noam Galai