Category Archives: Disabilities rights

Pushing Towards The Tipping Point

Jay RudermanBy: Jay Ruderman

Those of us who advocate for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our community have made tremendous progress over the last few years, but we still have much work to do until we reach the point where the value of inclusion has become an integrated and accepted value of our entire community. I am proud of the role our foundation has played in this process and we intend to continue to seek a leadership role in the promotion of inclusion as an indispensable Jewish value. We believe that this blog continues to play an important role in making the case for inclusion. Today’s post represents our 300th post and we are proud of the tens of authors we have featured.

No one of us alone will be successful in reaching the tipping point where inclusion is an accepted value in our community. The advocacy for inclusion should be a combined effort of all of us who make up the disability community: self-advocates, families, siblings, NGOs, community organizations, funders, activists, employers, elected officials, governmental agencies and religious leaders. In short, a combined effort that brings together all segments of our society into a powerful network which will speak in a loud and clear voice that the inclusion of people with disabilities in our community will make us a better community for all and will bring us to the tipping point. Our foundation is actively exploring the creation of such a network, so stay tuned here for updates.

Work TogetherYou may be asking yourself: Yes but what can I do now, today, to promote a more inclusive community? Well, for one, I encourage you to share our blog posts widely to your contacts and communities. Share our posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and anywhere else you find appropriate (and follow our foundation on social media).

Additionally, if you are not engaged on social media, join today! The creation of a network that will change our community’s values to become more inclusive depends on all of us becoming active on social media and reaching the largest audience possible. Our voice must be multiplied and heard loud and clear by our entire community.

I want to thank all of you for your readership, advocacy and friendship. The advocacy for inclusion will necessitate all of us working together. I firmly believe that if we work together, we will accomplish our collective goal: the creation of a fair and flourishing community.

Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Engage with Jay on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.




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Inclusion’s Final Frontier: Socialization

David MarcuBy: David Marcu

The focus on the basic right of inclusion for people with disabilities in our communities has naturally made major inroads in areas such as employment, schools, places of worship and elsewhere. While significant challenges remain to make our society and communities more inclusive, much headway has been made.

Still, it behooves us to carefully examine the quality of inclusion and not just the quantity. Do workers with disabilities receive the same social benefits in the workplace as their peers? Do students with disabilities who are included in regular classes truly feel a part of the social milieu of their peers? Do our houses of worship merely serve as places of gathering or prayer, or do their members with disabilities enjoy the same social benefits as others?

I would not wish to generalize, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that the glass is more than half empty. Colleagues at work often meet after hours, go for a drink, share social experiences. Too often, their colleagues with disabilities, particularly those with developmental disabilities, may be invited to the occasional wedding, but not much else. Schools may provide academic studies, but too often students with intellectual disabilities who are included in regular classes find themselves the target of isolation, and often worse.

Our organization, Israel Elwyn, in partnership with Israel’s Ministries of Social Affairs and Social Services and of Education, the National Insurance Institute, Ashalim-JDC and local governments, has undertaken a pilot program known as “Reshet” (“network” in Hebrew) to reach out to and support young people with disabilities in inclusive high schools and help prepare them for the world of adulthood. This pilot project, currently operating in the south of Israel, provides these young people with the tools to prepare them for their first military call-up, for employment and for the world of continuing academic studies. No less important, the project has introduced weekly social clubs where these young people meet with others who also have disabilities, often a rare experience for them. The enthusiastic response of these youth to the social experiences they enjoy with their peers caused me to wonder: “how inclusive is this experience”?

The answer is not a clear one, but the need is nonetheless compelling. While not all the participants in the Reshet program express feelings of social isolation at school, quite a few have. Let’s hear two of them in their own voices:

Dror (left) and his peer Yotam (credit: Yaron Samimi)

Dror (left) and his peer Yotam (credit: Yaron Samimi)

Naor, when asked about socializing in school, responded “My social situation before I joined Reshet was not good. I didn’t know anyone and always sat by myself at school and at home played with my computer. Even now, I feel like I go to school just to pass the time. I feel bad about this, and don’t really have anyone I can call my friends. In the Reshet program, I feel better socially, people listen to one another, want to get to know each other and there aren’t any levels of social status.”

Dror reports: “In school, I don’t have any friends. There are maybe two or three people who don’t ignore my existence, but even with them, they usually laugh at or curse [me]. Students are difficult, loud and disrespectful. In Reshet, I have finally found a good place, where I can express myself and where we can laugh together about everyday things and not where people laugh at each other. I can’t wait for the time each week where we get together and sometimes we arrange to meet in the afternoon outside the program – something which you can’t take for granted.”

Inclusion needs to be about more than just functional involvement in the activities of society. It must be about how we all reach out and include people in every aspect of our lives. The students in the Reshet program are learning critical socialization skills that will, it is hoped, serve them when they move onto adulthood. But as with all aspects of inclusion, the disability lies not within the individual, but within our society and our communities. I encourage us all to make greater efforts to make inclusion not just a slogan, but a comprehensive way of life.

David B. Marcu is the CEO of Israel Elwyn, an organization that provides support services for children and adults with disabilities and their families. He is a past president of the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services, and is a member of the board of directors of the Israel Council for Social Welfare and the professional advisory committee for youth and disabilities of “Tevet”, the employment subsidiary of the JDC.

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It’s Been 24 Years

Jerry AikenBy: Jerry Aiken

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law back in 1990 to ensure that people with disabilities were not discriminated against for employment and that accommodations were made to provide physical access to facilities. As a country we have made great strides over the last 24 years, but by no means have we fully accomplished the goal. One can look at the employment of people with disabilities and identify model companies that have and are making a difference. One can look at advances in schools and progress toward more inclusive classrooms. One can look at physical access accommodations that are for the most part universally available.

All this being said, the true reality is that we as a society still have a long way to go. Every day, children with disabilities and their parents are faced with their child not being able to participate. It usually is not because a group or organization does not want to include a child with a disability. The opportunities are not there because most do not know how and are concerned that they cannot properly support or handle potential challenges. They are concerned that they will fail the expectations of the child, the parents, and others that attend their programs.

The National Inclusion Project’s mission is the inclusion of children with disabilities. Our focus is to open doors so that a child with a disability has the opportunity to participate in typical activities with their peers. With a concentration on out of school time programs, the Project has worked with community organizations around the country to help remove any concerns through training, support, and life examples of how to include children with disabilities. We do not ask nor do we want an organization to change their programs totally or create specific activities for those with disabilities. We work to help them understand that through slight modifications most children of varying abilities can be included and that the most important aspect of any program is to get to know the child. To treat each individual the same, with understanding and respect. By getting to know the child and having open communications with parents, programs will have paved the way for a successful experience.

children playing together

At JCC of Greater Washington – Camp JCC

Working with many partners over the years ranging from after-school programs, parks and recs activities, summer day camps, residential camps, etc., we see that if the opportunity is provided and the leaders allow kids to be kids, great things can be achieved. Individualism will shine as children of all abilities get involved, participate, make friends, and have fun. Certainly there are occasional bumps in the road (which happen in all inclusive and exclusive opportunities), but the long-term benefits far outweigh any temporary setback.

One of our JCC partners went from exclusive to inclusive. “In the past, the Levin JCC’s Camp Shelanu had ‘accidental inclusion’ – there were campers with disabilities who attended, but with no extra staff, no training, and no accommodations. Campers often ended up on the sidelines – in the room with their group but not really participating, or by themselves being ‘babysat’ by a staff person,” said Madeline Seltman.

“With the help of the National Inclusion Project, Camp Shelanu’s staff were all trained in the philosophy that ALL campers can succeed and make friends, and given the tools to help make that happen. One camper’s mom said that Camp Shelanu, with its supportive inclusion program, was the first time her son wanted to go back to a camp on Tuesday morning!”

The social inclusion of children will make for a much better society tomorrow. Kids participating in various recreational activities today participate in play together despite differences which will lead to better understanding and acceptance in the future. Friendships developed in a play-based environment are extending beyond the boundaries of a given program. Kids develop a sense of belonging that will become an expectation, not just on the playground or at camp but in all aspects of life. Parents will see a difference and seek to be more involved with their community.

The National Inclusion Project believes that no one should sit on the sidelines! If your organization is not inclusive or are not taking the steps to become inclusive, what are you waiting for?

Jerry Aiken is the Executive Director of the National Inclusion Project. The National Inclusion Project serves to bridge the gap that exists between young people with disabilities and the world around them.  They partner with communities and programs to teach others how to be inclusive so that kids with and without disabilities can experience lifelong benefits.  By driving the movement for social inclusion in after school programs, summer camps, and in the classroom, children of all abilities learn, play and serve together.   To learn more, enjoy this video or follow NIP on Twitter


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The Fair And Right Thing

Sharon ShapiroBy: Sharon Shapiro

Around my office are constant reminders of my Dad.  A picture of my father with my son sits on my right, another photo of my dad is on my left, and on the wall hangs a framed poem about my dad’s generosity to the Boston Jewish day school community. This rhyme stands out to me:

“Mort Ruderman cared for everyone
his warmth was genuine and true
He followed Rabbi Akiva’s saying
for he loved every single Jew.”

My father was a successful man and this fact seemed important to some people, but to most he was a down-to-earth person who would do anything for his family, friends and those in need.  He loved being part of a diverse Jewish community and wanted nothing more than to give back in a big way.  My siblings and I took our father’s values and brought them into the work of our foundation in our own strategic manner. Including people with disabilities is the fair and right thing to do, and this is what we focus on.

After my father passed away in October of 2012, we wanted to do something meaningful in his memory. We decided to remember him by honoring a person who has made an extraordinary contribution to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish world and beyond. Dr. Michael Stein is that person. With a humble manner, just as I saw in my dad, he makes a world of difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

On May 8, we honored Michael Stein with the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion. We met at Meditech– a software company in Canton, MA which my father was instrumental in founding. One hundred good friends, family members, and leaders in the Greater Boston Jewish community enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate both the work of Michael Stein and the legacy of my father.  My brother Jay spoke beautifully about our father’s humility and the great pleasure he received from helping others.  Bill Alford spoke of Michael Stein’s incredible work on behalf of people with disabilities and their families around the world. Michael’s personal stories provided a powerful and inspiring highlight of the evening.

My brother Todd summed it up: “My Dad was modest, believed in fairness, taught us the power of giving, and always advocated for those who could not. He devoted himself to helping others. When he was asked what he would like written on his gravestone, he replied: ‘I helped others get ahead.’ I see many similar character traits between my father and Michael Stein.”

I believe my dad would have been deeply proud of this Award, of Michael and his work, and of his children.

Sharon Shapiro is a Trustee of the Ruderman Family Foundation and the director of the foundation’s Boston office.

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My Voice

Matan KochBy: Matan Koch

May 2, 2014 marked the end of my service as a Member of the National Council on Disability appointed by President Barack Obama.  Though no longer a public servant, I will never cease to work for the day when every American with a disability gets to experience the same gratitude that I felt on the day in 1998 when, for the first time, I got to be not only a recipient of government services, but that most awesome of American title’s which is “taxpayer.” (My first paycheck, like so many of our young people was from Jewish summer camp).

I still receive government services, and only at the end of my life will someone get to calculate the irrelevant question of whether or not my ultimate money paid in meets or exceeds the money paid out. That day, however, decisively demonstrated that the world would recognize and compensate my talents, and that I could contribute not only with my good works but also by paying my fair share. It is this dignity for which I will continue to fight. And it is a fight with many components.

I will add my private voice to NCD’s public voice that sheltered workshops and sub-minimum wage become a thing of the past, and that innovative vocational rehabilitation and supported employment allow all Americans with disabilities to find meaningful opportunities to add their talents to the American workforce and the American economy.

I will continue to raise my voice so that my new home state, Massachusetts, will one day not be the only state where Americans with disabilities need not artificially limit their income and assets in order to receive the personal care services that they need to work and live, but rather that in all states people with disabilities will have the opportunity to achieve and contribute to their utmost, with public support for those things that very few can afford on private resources, such as personal and nursing care.

I will continue to raise my voice to see that people with disabilities are included in whatever communities they choose, included in our neighborhoods and our schools and universities, included in our churches and synagogues, included in our places of public accommodation and, though the law cannot so mandate, in all of our private associations.  Let us hope to see the day in our lifetimes when we are truly made welcome anywhere we choose to be.

I will continue to raise my voice for the basic idea that Health Care for all should be a right and not a privilege, a right no more dependent on ethnic or socioeconomic status than on pre-existing conditions, because this must be a prerequisite for a just society in a nation with resources as great as our own. I leave government today, but know that the banner once taken up cannot be put down until we are indeed guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and we can truly say that there is liberty and justice for all.

We must doI believe very strongly in the above words, and I seek those of you who are willing as allies.  Jewish tradition teaches that it is not upon us to finish the work, but nor are we free to abstain from it.  One of the most important elements of this teaching in my mind is the recognition that there is only so much that any one person can do in advancement of a massive goal.  Alone, there is little I could do to affect the goals articulated above.  There may be little that you can do.  But if we each do our little part, just maybe our goal will be achieved. Any one of these issues could be a pivotal change in the life of someone with a disability, and your part, or mine, could be just what they need.  Further, I have not articulated the whole of the work.  I believe strongly in the items I have outlined, but I believe even more strongly in the call to action.  We need to advance the conversation on disability in this country, and so I urge each of you to do something, whether on the issues of outlined or on some other, so the day be not far when there is liberty and justice for all.

Matan Koch is a lawyer and freelance disability and health policy professional. Follow his blog or engage with him on Twitter.

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Professor Reuven Feuerstein

The Ruderman Family Foundation expresses sorrow upon the passing of Professor Reuven Feuerstein this past Tuesday and send our sincerest condolences to the family of Professor Feuerstein and the entire staff of  the Feuerstein Institute. Feuerstein is a valued partner of the foundation as we work together to further the inclusion of people with disabilities into society.

Professor Reuven Feuerstein

Courtesy: Feuerstein Institute

Jay Ruderman wrote in an article in the Jerusalem Post:
“Professor Reuven Feuerstein was a man way ahead of his time, who saw the world not as it is but as how it should be. Decades ago Professor Feuerstein told the world in a clear and strong voice that children with disabilities should not be seen for their disability, but should be seen as children who have every right to be included into society like every other child. In fact he believed that only through inclusion would a child with a disability be able to lead a full, healthy and meaningful life.

I have been proud to work with the Feuerstein Institute, which was founded by Professor Feuerstein, on a program which advocates for and counsels young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities toward marriage. In the Feuerstein Institute I have found a partner who is not afraid to push society’s boundaries in advocating for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society.”

May his memory be for a blessing.


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The Trials And Tribulations Of Raising A Taxpayer

Andrea GruberBy: Andrea Gruber

  • 500,000 individuals with autism will enter the job force during the next decade.
  • 65% of adults with disabilities are unemployed.
  • Hiring a person with a disability should not be considered charity. It is a sound business decision that brings well-qualified talent into the workforce.

I think about these statistics each and every day. They haunt me like a bad dream, and float in and out of my consciousness continually. I am driven by pure selfishness to see that these statistics do not define my son. I am the mother of an incredible young man. Marc is disciplined, hardworking, congenial, and driven to succeed. However, he has one obstacle standing in his way to long-term, meaningful employment: Marc has autism. Sadly, this single characteristic will completely overshadow all of his incredible skills and attributes in many areas of his life, especially when it comes to establishing a career.

I have three children in their 20’s and, like most parents, I want my grown children to find work that they are passionate about—jobs that not only provide them income, but also get them out of bed every morning with enthusiasm and commitment. Together with my husband, we are raising taxpayers; these are individuals we hope will work hard in a meaningful job and enjoy a rich and full life. Unfortunately, the world at large does not share our vision. As difficult as it is for a typical young adult to find his or her place in the world, a person with disabilities is that much more challenged.

Our family lives in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. But, before you roll your eyes and think, “No wonder this young man cannot find a job,” I would like to tell you that Detroit is not what you have been led to believe on the national news. There are many opportunities here. Our area is slowly growing and its residents are committed to seeing Detroit revitalized and reborn. With that said, the economics of our area do increase the difficulty in finding employment for a person with disabilities. This is a national problem.

Marc GruberFew employers seem to realize that individuals with learning differences can bring myriad skills and talents to the workplace. In fact, it has been statistically proven that individuals with disabilities increase the overall quality of the workplace. Walgreen’s, KPMG, Merck, and SunTrust Banks have all experienced this firsthand. Each of these businesses has achieved high levels of success by employing individuals without typical resumes. For example, at one of the warehouses that Walgreen’s operates, 40% of the staff members have disabilities. It is one of their highest-producing facilities in the country. All of the employees work together and bring their skills and talents to the workplace to make this facility an incredible success.

April is Autism Awareness Month. This means 30 days during which parents, educators, organizations, and all those touched by this lifelong disability try to teach others about living a life with autism. I am hoping that within the next 30 days, there will be an employer that will look at my son’s resume and be persuaded to hire him because of his ABILITIES, not the things he cannot do. My son, like so many of his peers, is capable of much more than sweeping a floor, folding laundry, clearing a table, or watering plants. My son is bright, disciplined, hardworking, driven to succeed, and congenial, and one day he WILL be a taxpayer.

Andrea Storch Gruber and her family reside in Southfield, Michigan. She is a member of the statewide group, Parents Raising Taxpayers. Most recently, Andrea helped to organize a Community Conversation to bring light to the issue of employment for individuals with disabilities. Her son, Marc, has participated in Atzmayim, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s Tikvah Vocational Program, which receives funding from the Ruderman Family Foundation. His resume and visual portfolio are available upon request!

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