Category Archives: Disabilities rights

Ten Steps To Make Your Congregation More Inclusive

Lisa FriedmanTen Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive

By: Lisa Friedman

Inclusion of individuals with disabilities in congregational life is being discussed more and more frequently. And while this is a good thing, it can also be a controversial concept that stirs up a lot of emotion.  When done right, inclusion fosters belonging.  It’s about more than the structures and facilities.  A ramp is just a sloped sidewalk if those who need it aren’t able to fully participate in the life of your community.  This may seem daunting and overwhelming for a community that has not previously made accommodations or offered inclusive programming for individuals with disabilities.  It does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.  My advice is to start small, but start somewhere.

Ten Steps to Begin to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive:

1. Identify the key stakeholders.
Inclusion of people with disabilities is not a one-person job.  While a single individual can light a spark, no one person can change the culture of a synagogue alone. Assemble a core group of professionals and lay people. Include someone with disabilities and/or the parent of a child with disabilities. It is essential to adhere to the adage, “nothing about us, without us”.  Helping individuals to see their value to both the community and the inclusion effort is both welcoming and validating.  It demonstrates that you are about far more than “lip service”.

2.  Recognize that inclusion is about changing a culture.
Changing a culture is a process. Recognize that you have embarked on a long-term endeavor and that the process itself can and will be as significant as the destination.  We are taught, kol yisrael areivim zeh lezeh (all of the people of Israel are responsible for one another) and “Every member of the people of Israel is obligated to study Torah—whether one is rich or poor, physically able or with physical disability.”(Maimonides, Mishneh Torah) We must take our teachings to heart and use them to help everyone in our communities to recognize the value of inclusion.

3. Create a vision.
With your key group of stakeholders, develop your vision of inclusion.  There are many tools available to guide an organization through the visioning process and most synagogues already have a Vision Statement and are familiar with the process. Ensure that your vision of inclusion is in line with your synagogue’s vision.  Here is just one example: (name of synagogue) celebrates the uniqueness of each individual and welcomes diversity within our sacred community. We strive to ensure that all members of (name of synagogue) are able to participate meaningfully in all spiritual, educational, celebratory, and life event activities at the synagogue.

In Part 2 of this series I will explore practical goal setting as the next steps in helping to create an inclusive congregation.

Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey where she  oversees an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. She also consults with congregations to develop inclusive practices for staff, clergy, and families through dialogue, interactive workshops and awareness training.  Lisa is a blogger on the issue of disabilities and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter to learn more.

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Bridging The Gap Globally

Jean JudesBy: Jean Judes

I was honored to be invited to present at the recent Conference on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at the United Nations this past July. Beit Issie Shapiro received Special Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council of the UN in 2012, and it has been both eye-opening and inspiring for me and my colleague, Shosh Kaminski, to take part in the global dialogue concerning the CRPD and its implementation in different countries.

As a social worker through and through, with over 30 years of experience in the social sector, I was amazed at the commitment shared by so many colleagues from around the world, in both developing and developed countries to promote a joint agenda around disabilities. I felt a real sense of opportunity for mutual learning and dialogue in the air, though mostly through the informal talks, and less through the formal conference panels, which were very political in nature. During those informal moments and corridor conversations, Shosh and I were approached by representatives and organizations from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and we were thrilled to hear them say that there is much to learn from Israel in the field of disabilities. Our Commissioner, Ahiya Kamara, was at the conference as Israel`s State representative and as always, made some powerful statements.

A large number of issues were discussed at the conference, but the following were the ones that stuck with us most:
- The important place allocated to disabilities organizations in the conference emphasizes the growing empowerment of the civil society around the world and its impact on policy in the field of disabilities.
- The conference highlighted the connection between poverty, disability and the State’s responsibility to allocate funds to minimize these phenomenon, especially through inclusive employment as a necessary economic and social mobility track.
- We learned about the growing use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for developing abilities of children and adults with disabilities, and as a means to promote their inclusion in society.

Jean Judes at the United Nations

Finally, the conference encouraged us to continue with our work to set up a coalition of civil society organizations which will be involved in the implementation and monitoring of the CRPD in Israel. We believe that active participation by the civil society, together with State bodies, will bring about a more effective and qualitative implementation of the convention.

When I stood up on the stage in the main hall and looked upon the many state and civil society representatives from  around the world, I felt such great excitement and a great sense of pride to be able to represent the vibrant civil society in Israel. Many countries represented in the U.N. stifle their civil society and see it as a potential threat. This gave me a perspective on our democracy in Israel and the ability to influence through civic action .

I presented Beit Issie Shapiro’s Community-based Rehabilitation (CBR) model, which includes developing innovative model services that can be replicated, inclusion work designed to change attitudes in the community and influence policy and legislation, and developing and disseminating knowledge through research and training. I gave our inclusive and accessible playground – Park Chaverim – as an example of just how we put our CBR model into practice, focusing  on changing attitudes in the community and  legislation so that true inclusion can take place. Please click here to view the full presentation (scroll to 1:27:41), and click here to read the President of, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi’s take on the presentation, published in The Jewish Week.

Our model interested many countries, and representatives approached us to ask us additional questions and showed interest in learning more about what is happening in this field in Israel. It was so very heartwarming to receive such positive feedback and it raised some hope in me that so many of our differences and negative attitudes towards one another can be bridged by focusing on an issue that crosses all boarders and affects all cultures – disabilities!

Jean Judes is the Executive Director of Beit Issie Shapiro, Israel’s leading organization in the field of disabilities. Jean has been working in the field of disabilities for the past 20 years and believes in the necessity of social change in the way society treats those who are different. In order to improve the quality of life of people with special needs, society must be changed and the community made physically and socially accessible, so that people with special needs can become part of the community on all levels and in all spheres of life.

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I Dream

jo ann cropBy: Jo Ann Simons

We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech. The entire nation took a moment and paused to remember and  reflect on the dream. We can all agree that while much remains to be done, much has been achieved.  The majority of Americans have no knowledge of the time when blacks encountered “Colored Only” signs. We have a black President and our leaders have asked us to have a serious and national conversation about race.  We have been told it is “about time”.

For someone who remembers and was moved by the words of Dr. King, I was led towards a life of action and social justice. I was sure we could have a more just and inclusive society.

I invite the national  conversation on race but I wonder why there hasn’t been a similar cry to have a national  conversation about disability? Why is disability still on the margins of serious debate in our country?

The disparities among people of color are great but the disparities of people with disabilities are greater in all meaningful measure of a quality life.

Persons with disabilities have the lowest health status of any group in the world.

Persons with disabilities have the lowest participation rates in the workforce.

Persons with disabilities have the lowest access to post-secondary education.

Persons with disabilities are the poorest of Americans.

Persons with disabilities remain underemployed, unemployed, poor and sick.

Where is the outrage? Where is the call for a national conversation about disability?

I dream…

Jo Ann Simons is a Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers

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When The Time Comes

Below is a speech given at the graduation ceremony for this year’s participants in Camp Ramah California’s Ezra voc-ed program.

Shaina BarnettBy: Shaina Barnett

Hello and bruchim habaim (welcome), everyone. My name is Shaina Barnett and I’m graduating this summer. I started in the summer of 2008 and entered the Ezra Staff Program in 2010, making a total of six summers here at Camp Ramah. Since joining Ezra, the jobs I’ve had were from helping sorting out mail, to working outside of camp at the Humane Society of Ventura County. The opportunities I have experienced while holding these jobs gave me a sense of confidence as well as feeling more responsible as an adult. Some other things I’ve learned about being in Ezra are how to interact with my peers, which is not always easy, and I’ve learned to be well aware to listen to others and be clear what my supervisors tell me.

To me, camp is one of many things: my second home, my own perfect world, a place where I can feel safe and where such magical things happen, cliche as it sounds. I feel that in this sacred and condensed environment, we are a community of more than just Jewish people. We are a community as a whole. Which is why I thank God that the Tikvah Program exists.

Growing up with autism all my life, the struggles and obstacles life threw at me were a constant battle. I never really knew or understand human relationships and had trouble trying to blend in or even structure a simple conversation. Relationships such as with friends or my siblings were strained because I never felt like myself; I always had to be someone else, desperate for acceptance. But Camp Ramah changed all that. With an environment structured with people from all walks of life, the feeling of being welcome among my peers and others of all ages is an overwhelmingly amazing feeling. I feel safe from harsh judgments and over time spending my summers here, I grew to accept the person I am. I am no longer ashamed of my autism. Even my social skills have improved greatly as my perspective of life and my spirituality.

As a young Jewish woman, my pride in my heritage grew at camp. Although the pride was always there, being at camp with Jews from all backgrounds and with Tikvah’s help making connections with other campers and staff helped me apply the teachings of Torah to my everyday life. This year, I achieved my desires of making my own tallit and speaking about my autism to the Machones on behalf of the Tikvah Program. These accomplishments will always be a reminder to me of what I can achieve.

California tikvah

We have all heard the expression “when one door closes, another one opens”. After moving out of my parents’ house the previous year and virtually living independently in my apartment, I knew I am ready for bigger challenges and better things life has to offer. The Tikvah Program helps and understands that. As adults, we have the obligation to move forward in life for life is not stationary. Of all the hardest decisions and transitions I have made in my life thus far, leaving camp and graduating Ezra is without doubt the hardest transition for me, because this to me is my home. Though many tears will be shed, we must remember that we the Jewish people have a saying for such transitions in life: we must remember that goodbyes are not forever, but a l’hitraot, until we meet again. Because we stuck together as if we were family and we shall forever more stick together in our hearts. With that being said, I wish you all good luck and success in your endeavors and a long, happy life.

I would like to take this time to thank all those who gave me not only six memorable summers here at Camp Ramah, but who have influenced me in my life. I would first like to thank my family and friends for their tough love and support to making me the person I am today and for giving me motivation to go forward. I give my thanks to my many awesome coordinators, to Deborah for her wisdom and teachings of Torah and Rabbi Joe for successfully running this wonderful place and making it better year after year.

Thank you Elana Naftalin-Kelman for her love for us and her endless hard work which enabled us to come together and build friendships and memories that would last a lifetime. Thank you David Abraham, our best friend, our big brother. His guidance and unlimited patience as he gave us tools to survive adulthood in the workforce are what truly benefit the Ezra Staff.

When I think of David, Elana, and those who I give thanks to, I think of the song, Darkeinu, Our Path. For we bless God for keeping us on the path we want to follow and we bless our staff and coordinators for helping us pursue our path. I am aware that following my part is no easy task, but I will prevail. I am no longer afraid of what is waiting ahead of me because I have already conquered challenges that lie behind me. I always mention the words “when the time comes…”, and now this is my time. This is my year. And I will own it and succeed. My heart goes out to you all and you will always be in my heart. A huge and ultimate Todah Rabah (thank you) to all of you for six memorable summers here at Camp Ramah. Todah Rabah.

My name is Shaina Roxanne Barnett. I am 22 years old from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, CA. I’ve been going to Camp Ramah in California for 6 summers and 7 sessions. I’m a student at Los Angeles Pierce College and a secretary at the Pierce College Gay Straight Alliance as well as a lead singer in Temple Aliyah’s OurSpace program called Kolot Tikvah. I love music, art, animals, and teaching the world about Autism and advocating for human equality.


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Customer Service When You Enter CVS

Michael LibermanBy Michael Liberman- Transitions to Work Graduate

When I first started Transitions to Work, the Director, Madeline Wenzel, told me I would be doing a 3 month training to learn register and customer service skills. I started the class and was taught how to use the cash register, stock the shelves, how to keep the store clean and how to properly greet customers.

One week after completing the training course, the staff from the Transitions to Work program helped me get a three month internship at the CVS in Government Center. The internship would give me a chance to apply what I had learned in the training to working in a real store. On the first day of my internship one of the co-workers in the store was showing me how to stock shelves. I was given an aisle and I had to put items on the shelves and keep them clean. I did that and I loved it.

A little while into my internship, my manager came up to me and told me that she wanted to hire me as a Greeter in the store. I went home and thought about the position of Greeter and made the decision to accept the offer. As a Greeter, it is my job to stand by the door and say “Hello, how are you today, do you need help finding anything,” and I tell the customer to have a great day when I finish helping him/her. If the customer needs help, I walk them to the aisle and show them where the item is and explain to them the sale of that particular product. I make sure to use all of the GOT (greet, offer and thank) steps I learned during my training to each customer so they all continue shopping at our store.

I have been working in this CVS for about 5 1/2 months and I really like the people I work with. It feels good to be making money and making some new friends too. My experience working at a CVS has been great. I have even been employee of the week twice!  Everybody keeps telling me what a good job I am doing and to keep up the good work. Getting such positive feedback from my manager and co-workers makes me feel good.

CVS Michael Wenzel and Lianne Tan

Michael with CVS manager Lianne Tan

The Store Manager of the store recently sent me an email sharing a customer comment. “This store is amazing. All the staff here is helpful and especially Michael. He is the face of your store and it’s so nice to have him walk me to my items and take his time to explain to me about the products. I really appreciate him!”  My Assistant Manager thanked me for all of my help and greeting customers as they walk in the store and told me that our customer feedback is positive when I am working. I continue to provide good customer service to the customers so they will continue shopping in this store.

As I am working I am meeting some more people to talk to. A graduate from the last Transitions to Work CVS session just started an internship in my store and I recently helped her by showing her what I do as a Greeter. I started working here on March 26, 2013 and I am happy that I had the opportunity to get this job. I am glad to have been a part of the Transitions to Work program and I am grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, CVS and Jewish Vocational Service for making this program possible.

 Michael is a graduate of the Transitions to Work Program.  He is 21 years old and lives in Sharon, MA

TransitionsLogo_webTransitions to Work is a collaboration among Combined Jewish Philanthropies, The Ruderman Family Foundation and Jewish Vocational Service, to build relationships with employers to raise awareness about inclusive hiring practices and to engage corporate partners to consider young adults with disabilities as qualified, committed candidates for appropriate employment opportunities.  Transitions to Work provides an extensive 12 week training and internship program to enable young adults with disabilities to develop the skills needed for employment and place them into jobs that provide earnings and a sense of purpose.  

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Siblings Need Support Too- Part II

Don Meyer is the director of the Sibling Support Project, a national effort dedicated to the interests of millions of brothers and sisters of people with special health, developmental and mental health concerns.  As the project’s director, Don has conducted more than 300 workshops in all 50 states as well as Canada, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Iceland, Turkey, England, New Zealand, and Japan.  His workshops and trainings have reached thousands of parents and providers have helped establish more than 390 Sibshops worldwide.

Below is part two of an interview I conducted with him about Sibshops and the need to support siblings of people with disabilities. Part one of the interview can be found here.
- Ephraim Gopin, Communications Director, Ruderman Family Foundation

Credit: Mike Houle

Credit: Mike Houle

Who attends Sibshops?

Most Sibshops are for sibs of kids with developmental concerns. While Sibshops were developed for sibs in the 8-13 year-old age range, Sibshops (depending on the community) are being offered for sibs as young as six and for teens as well.

Why are most Sibshops developed for kids aged 8-13?

That age is the easiest time to get kids together. Their sibling’s disabilities may be affecting them. The concerns of siblings include:
- embarrassment (for example, a sister who removes her top at the swimming pool or the brother who has a major meltdown)
- resentment
- jealousy (the world revolves around the sibling)
- concern about the future that young siblings may be feeling

What more is needed for siblings of people with disabilities?

There’s still a need to create opportunities for siblings to connect with their peers. It’s natural that when we meet a parent of a child with a disability, we introduce them to other parents in the same boat…but for siblings we don’t automatically do that. I have met siblings in their forties who are just joining SibNet and they post: “I’m so glad I found this…this is the first time I’ve ever talked with anybody about my sibling’s disability.”

Siblings need info and that info changes as they get older. When they are…
- Kids: They need to know they did not cause the disability and they can’t catch it.
- Teens: They need information about what will happen when everyone grows up. Many times, parents do not share their plans for when they’re gone and so teens devise their own plans. They need to be able to discuss those plans and make sure they are realistic.
- Siblings who reach child rearing age: If there’s a genetic component to their siblings disability, they need to know so they can make informed decisions.

As far as policies, agencies need to acknowledge that siblings require services too. Agencies need to tweak their policies and actively reach out to them. Over the last four years, I have seen the beginnings of national organizations reaching out to siblings and creating programming for them. To me it’s obvious that this should have happened years ago- but better late than never.

We live in a time where people with disabilities will outlive their parents. Who will become the point people when the parents die? SIBLINGS! We need to do more for them. Immediately.

Where can I find a Sibshop near me?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are over 400 Sibshops in almost every state and country ranging from Argentina to Iceland and Ireland to Japan.  We have an online directory of registered Sibshops.

Don lives in Seattle with his wife, Terry DeLeonardis, a special education teacher and consultant and their  four children. Don is the senior author or editor of numerous articles and six books and received the 2007 Duncan Award from Children’s Hospital in Seattle for his work with families.  Don Meyer recently created a group for grandparents to connect with their peers. Enjoy this video about the importance of creating services for siblings.

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The Abysmal Truth About Abuse And Disabilities

simonsBy: Jo Ann Simons

The Disability and Abuse Project released a report in early September that gives low grades to state and local agencies for failing to respond adequately to widespread abuse of children and adults with disabilities. The press release states:

“The Report — “Abuse of People with Disabilities: Victims and Their Families Speak Out” — analyzes the results of what may be the largest survey of its kind in the nation.  More than 7,200 people took the survey which inquired into the experiences of people with disabilities as victims of abuse and bullying. Family members, advocates, service providers and various types of professionals also responded.

Over 70% of people with disabilities said they had been victims of abuse.  More than 50% of these victims had experienced physical abuse, with some 41% having been victims of sexual abuse.  Nearly 9 of 10 respondents with disabilities had suffered verbal or emotional abuse. Most victims said they had experienced abuse on more than 20 occasions.

About half of the incidents of abuse were not reported to authorities.  When reports were filed, fewer than 10% of alleged perpetrators were arrested.

Only one-third of victims received therapy and fewer than 5% received benefits from victim compensation programs.”

Sadly, while I did not participate in the survey, my personal experiences support these findings.

My son, who is now a well-adjusted, employed, home owning man with Down syndrome, has been physically abused, sexually abused, bullied and verbally abused.  I have not kept track of the number of occasions that this occurred but I am sure that it is close to the 20 occasions that most victims reported.

I reported the most serious offenses to the authorities. Their reaction was mixed. The high school assistant principal didn’t care about calling out the classmate who shouted to us as we drove to school, “There goes the retard.” The middle school principal tried as best he could to figure out how Jon received all the scratches on his body after a gym class.

The local police department arrested the young man who sexually abused Jon as his transportation provider. They were very supportive in getting Jon’s story and believed the 8 year old with Down syndrome. Maybe it was because the perpetrator was known to them. The district attorney was very interested in the case but, eventually didn’t think they could get a conviction under the archaic system that would have required Jon to face his accuser in an adult court room.


We wanted the school system to be accountable. We questioned why they were still allowing the driver to transport other children, after pulling Jon from the transportation, since we presented evidence that he abused Jon and others were at risk. We faced a belligerent school system that preferred to bury their head in the sand and then hide behind their expert witnesses whose credentials included discrediting children as witnesses.

In the end, we settled, reluctantly.  We used the small sum of money, funds that could never begin to undo the damage, towards the fabulous celebration of achievement that was Jon’s Bar Mitzvah.

We all suffered. Our family was almost torn apart by this horrific abuse. Some of my family was in denial, others were as pained as I was. While we tried to shield our five year old daughter, her keen sense of hearing allowed her to listen to our quiet conversations with Jon. I have no idea how we found the explanation to answer her query: “The man driving him to school did that to him?” Somehow, we found the words, the strength and the love to move forward; though I am still haunted by the possibility that the abuser has found other victims.

So I regularly check the sex offender data base. Just to be vigilant. The abuse itself may have ended but its effects linger.

Jo Ann Simons is a Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers

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The Inclusion Confession

Rebecca SchorrBy: Rabbi Rebecca Schorr

The central section of the Yom Kippur liturgy is the public confession known as the “viddui.” Originally patterned after the priestly narrative of Yom Kippur in Leviticus 16, the current iteration, with its poetic catalogue of sins, is the work of our rabbinic sages, who believed that the best way to have mastery over our behaviors is to recognize, name, and internalize our wrongdoings. Only then can we hope to overcome them. Following the traditional rubric, this new viddui is meant to help us recognize, name, and internalize the many ways we continue to exclude those in our community whose abilities differ from ours.

For the sin that we have sinned before You under duress and willingly; and for the sin we have  sinned before You through the hardness of heart.

For the sin that we have sinned before You by failing to include every member of our community.

For the sin that we have sinned before You by making it difficult for those who are different to find their places in our synagogues, schools, and organizations

and for the sin that we have sinned before You for thinking that we are doing all that we can.

For all these, O God of mercy,

forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

For the sin that we have sinned before You by building ramps without widening doorframes.

For the sin that we have sinned before You for dedicating seats for those with mobility difficulties without constructing accessible bathrooms.

For the sin that we have sinned before You for installing assisted hearing devices and allowing speakers who believe themselves to have loud voices to speak without using the sound system

and for the sin that we have sinned before You for believing we are being inclusive when we don’t truly include all.

For all these, O God of mercy,

forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

For the sin that we have sinned before You by using words to tear down rather than build up.

For the sin that we have sinned before You by not removing words from our vocabulary that are outdated, outmoded, and unacceptable.

For the sin that we have sinned before You for standing idly by while our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers use words like “retard” or “retarded” to describe a person or situation

and for the sin that we have sinned before You by not speaking out when these words are  bandied about by rock stars, sports figures, and pop icons.

For all these, O God of mercy,

forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

Courtesy of B'nai Amoona Synagogue, St. Louis

Courtesy of 2013 Ruderman Prize in Disability B’nai Amoona Synagogue, St. Louis

For the sin that we have sinned before You for staring at the child having the public tantrum and assuming he needs better discipline.

For the sin that we have sinned before You for judging that child’s mother rather than offering her a sympathetic glance.

For the sin that we have sinned before You by accommodating those with physical limitations while not making accommodations for those with developmental limitations

and for the sin that we have sinned before You by not providing support and respite for the parents and caregivers.

For all these, O God of mercy,

forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

For the sin that we have sinned before You under duress and willingly; and for the sin we have sinned before You through the hardness of heart.

For the sin that we have sinned before You turning away from those who seem different.

For the sin that we have sinned before You by putting those who seem different into categories such as “less able” and “undesirable.”

For the sin that we have sinned before You for failing to recognize a piece of You in every soul.

For ALL these, O God of mercy, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

Ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, a contributing author of The New Normal: Blogging Disability, and the editor of the CCAR Newsletter. Writing at her blog, This Messy Life, Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Engage with her on Twitter!

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An Ideal School

Mitch RubinBy: Mitch Rubin

As a lifelong sports fan, watching my children pick up a racket or a mitt to compete is one of my great joys. So when my 13-year-old son Max stepped on the court as a starter for his middle school basketball team’s first-ever interscholastic game, I was bursting with pride.

Max has Down syndrome. He also has a wicked hook shot. At his school, both are recognized and celebrated.

The IDEAL School is the only private inclusion school in New York City. Our family and two others founded IDEAL in 2006, because we were unable to find an inclusive elementary school that could meet Max’s needs. The school’s mission is to create a diverse community that accepts and affirms the full identities of all people.

At IDEAL, inclusion and diversity are the driving forces behind the school’s program. Two-thirds of our students are neurotypical and one-third have learning differences. Small classes and co-teaching teams comprised of a general and special educator ensure that every child receives individual attention. Every student has an individualized curriculum. Students are never pulled out of whole class instruction to receive related services. Through differentiated instruction, all children learn the same subjects at the appropriate level, without any associated stigma. Our dynamic, content-rich academic program holds all students to high standards and challenges them to their full potential. Identity work and dialogue about differences are integrated into our social justice curriculum, so that all students embrace their own challenges, as well as their classmates’ differences.

Like every aspect of IDEAL’s program, its basketball team—the Pioneers—is neurodiverse. Athletes with disabilities have full membership alongside typically developing teammates and an equal opportunity to participate. Max’s coaches recognize his talents and coach to his strengths, not just his challenges.

That first game for the Pioneers, which was against a typical private school, was a momentous occasion for Max, for me and for The IDEAL School. Max was given the chance to shine in an area he excels and ended up the high scorer. But it was just as thrilling for me to watch the other ways inclusion played out on the court. The team’s starting point guard, a talented, competitive, and neurotypical athlete, maneuvered the court to involve all of his teammates, including those for whom the physical and cognitive demands of the game were quite challenging. He sees these teammates as partners, not token members. To him, this was just as important as winning the game. And when a girl with Down syndrome tossed the ball underhanded and scored, the entire gym erupted in a standing ovation, everyone recognizing how hard she had worked for this achievement.

At IDEAL, this type of collaboration, acceptance, and personal success happens everyday: in the classrooms, hallways, studios, and playing fields. Indeed, every time they take the court the Pioneers earn a victory– a victory for equity, for diversity and for inclusion. Being witness to that fills me with unending pride and gratitude.

Mitch Rubin is the President of the Board of Trustees and a Co-Founder of the IDEAL School of Manhattan – an inclusion K-8 school in New York City dedicated to creating a diverse community that affirms and accepts the full identities of all people, while inspiring academic excellence, creative leadership, and a desire to build a more just and equitable world. Learn more about the school on Facebook, join the conversation on Twitter or watch IDEAL on NOW with Alex Wagner.

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Time To Change

jo ann cropBy: Jo  Ann Simons

Everything about my new car is different. The location of the cup holders have changed, the layout of the audio system is not the same as in my old car and I am having trouble figuring out how to operate the defrost.

And when did the white appliances in my kitchen become passé and who decided that stainless steel was the correct choice?

Change is everywhere; sometimes they are minor inconveniences and other times they shift our collective thought and action.

We have to get used to both kinds.

This week we learned that, finally, the Social Security administration will become the latest federal agency to start using the term “intellectual disability” in lieu of “mental retardation.” Officials cite the change in response to the “widespread adoption” of the term “intellectual disability”.

We are witnessing the final end of the use of the “R” word. The movement to eliminate this word from our language began by self-advocates, who fiercely objected to its use and championed its elimination. They were joined by their families, friends and organizations (Special Olympics and Best Buddies  started The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign) who together stewarded a new era.

This change did not occur, as in the case of my cup holders, because of  engineers and designers of social policy, but from the widespread grass roots activism of persons with disabilities, their families and professionals.

Photo by Twitter user @sunshower70-

Twitter user @sunshower70 effort to end the “R” word: baked cookies for her daughter to distribute in school, to show support for her brother –

This has reinforced my belief in what Margaret Mead  said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I propose that advocacy be considered the most important program for funders and policy makers, instead of an afterthought. Think of the possibilities!

Imagine what we could accomplish if the small group of committed people had armies of supporters behind them.

Jo Ann Simons is a Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers

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Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, perceptions of disability