Disabilities support is essential to the creation of decent and just communities. Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1991, all aspects of American society have been sensitized to these issues. Our sidewalk curbs are cut to allow greater mobility, we formally seek to accommodate those with disabilities into our workforce and, more broadly, disabilities are accommodated rather than shunned. These are legal reforms—and any particular provision is likely to have its opponents–but overall they are motivated by a desire to create a society with a greater sensitivity to the needs of all.
Our individual communities also have a moral responsibility to address the particular needs of our members. For the Jewish community this means being sensitive to the barriers to entry the disabled face in participating in Jewish life. Here I believe there is a good deal of which the St. Louis community should be rightly proud, from rather small measures you may regularly see (like wireless earphones to help those hard of hearing in our synagogues) to larger ways like those structurally built into the new JCC. In the area of social services, Rabbi James Stone Goodman has been a path-breaker, working hard to help those with mental disabilities overcome them to live lives of dignity and respect within our community.
And yet, we can do more. Jewish Federation of St. Louis is committed to helping our agencies and synagogues address the needs that all our members have for full participation. To that end, Federation is embarking on a program to identify ways our community can improve our services and propose solutions to bring those services to a reality.
As a first step, last month Federation brought in Becca Hornstein, Executive Director of the Council for Jews with Special Needs, to consult with our community. After publicizing her visit to our agencies and synagogues, Becca met with dozens of members of our community who either were disabled themselves or had loved ones who were to speak to the kinds of challenges they face.
In the coming months we will be following this visit up with a community-wide survey to assess our need. Susan Scribner, Senior Planning and Allocations Associate, will be leading this charge. If you have an interest in being involved or simply telling your own story, please contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to moving forward in this effort.
Shavua Tov—have a great week.
PS: The issue is not local but part of a national movement. For example, see this blog on a recent conference to address the issue: http://www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/new-normal/jfna-advance-only-celebrating-our-diversity-will-we-create-unity?goback=%2Egde_4733710_member_239611612