Tag Archives: disabilities advocacy

What Keeps Us Up at Night: Abuse of Those With Disabilities

Friends,

In response to a shocking news report this week, the Jerusalem Post just published my op-ed calling for a hard look at the perils of institutionalization of people with disabilities and an immediate plan to join the growing global movement toward deinstitutionalization.

Here is the link to the op-ed, or you can simply scroll down for the full text. As always, I invite your response in the comment boxes provided.

– Jay Ruderman

Managing Israel’s Psychiatric Hospitals

By JAY RUDERMAN

Until Israel takes its place alongside other progressive countries and commits to a national policy of community-based living for everyone, we should all have a hard time sleeping.  Along with Israelis across our nation, I was stunned and deeply disturbed by the news that last week law enforcement raided a psychiatric hospital in Petah Tikva and detained for questioning 75 staff members as part of a year-long investigation that uncovered widespread sexual and physical abuse at the facility.

Two days after the raid, the hospital – which had a patient population of about 150 – was shut down, and patients were transferred to other facilities throughout our country.

This is not the first case of abuse at an institution. Sadly, there have been many. As unsettling as these reports are, the investigation also showed that there were others who did not directly participate in the abuse, but knew it was happening, and did not speak up.

So much about the institutional environment and the way it operates – with its impersonal procedures, its creation of dependence on the part of those it serves, its separation from society, and its dearth of community – enables and supports a culture where abuse can be practiced with impunity.

In Israel we need to pick up the pace and dedicate far more emotion, focus and resources to creating more options for care in the community. It is in this model and paradigm in which individuals are afforded the best opportunities for growth and independence.

More than 40 years ago the United States faced its own Neve Ya’akov scandal – one that resulted when the young investigative reporter Geraldo Rivera exposed physical and sexual abuse at the Willowbrook State School, a New York state-run residential facility located in New York City.

The 28-minute video documentary – Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace – led to massive policy reform and, ultimately, government funding policies that promoted and supported community-based services for people with disabilities.

In my native Massachusetts in 1972, a lawsuit was filed in federal court by parents of children with developmental disabilities living in state “schools.” Judge Joseph L. Tauro made an unannounced visit to the Belchertown State School and found appalling conditions.

Under Judge Tauro’s supervision, which lasted for many years, these institutions were cleaned up and ultimately closed.

Massachusetts has one remaining institution that serves a very small number of adults with developmental disabilities, and it is expected to close very soon. It does still have state-run psychiatric hospitals.

A more recent federal lawsuit in the US, called the Olmstead case, has led to a massive shift to community care across the US. Individuals who had lived in facilities for decades have now been given the proper support for community living and for the first time are enjoying their independence in the community.

The arguments about why we must keep institutions open ring hollow. Some people insist there are “difficult cases” that require institutionalization. But the fact is that countries around the world – with the US leading in this area – are closing institutions and more and more are caring in the community for those with even the most significant disabilities.

Indeed, in the US, there are 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, which have eliminated all public institutions for people with developmental disabilities.

I am not suggesting that transitioning away from institutional care will eliminate all abuse. But it is harder to commit such acts, and harder to hide them, when people leave home every day to work, participate in day habilitation, or to go to school in the community.

It’s harder to commit and hide abuse when people with disabilities are treated by doctors and therapists with offices in the community. It’s harder to commit and hide abuse when local police and safety officials protect people with disabilities along with all other members of their community.

The media reports that Dalia, the mother of a 24-year-old man who was a patient at Neve Ya’akov, told investigating authorities “we complained to the administrator… we live in fear that tonight he will be hit or they will inject him. We don’t sleep.”

We trust that the authorities will conduct a thorough investigation of what occurred at the hospital, will uncover the truth, will identify the guilty, and will make sure justice is done.

But until Israel takes its place alongside other progressive countries and commits to a national policy of community-based living for everyone, we should – like Dalia, the mother of the patient at Neve Ya’akov – all have a hard time sleeping.

The writer is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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We Have Come so Far …. Ann Coulter Notwithstanding

By Jo Ann Simons, Ruderman Family Foundation Disabilities Advisor and CEO, Cardinal Cushing Centers

Whenever I see an old Seinfeld episode where Jerry is using one of the first portable phones, it reminds me of how many changes I have seen in my adult life. Those bulky phones now seem primitive. In reality, it wasn’t too long ago when they looked pretty impressive. Now we are walking around with phones the size of a deck of cards that also double as computers.

These thoughts also remind me of the positive changes I have seen in the disability world. We can argue the decision to hire an able-bodied actor to portray the Glee character who uses a wheelchair.  But we have to celebrate the producers’ use of Lauren Potter, an actor with Down syndrome, to portray Becky, one of the hit show’s cheerleaders.  And it was the decision to hire a 50- year-old actor with Down syndrome to portray Sue Sylvester’s older sister that I celebrated most.  Her character died in the second season, but the storyline was realistic. The life expectancy of persons with Down is now close to 60 years old but only a few decades ago it was 20.

Having depicted both a teen and an older adult with disabilities, Glee is bringing another generation of actors into the storyline. Last season ended with Sue revealing her pregnancy, and this season we have learned that baby Robin—named for the actress who played Sue’s sister—also has Down syndrome.  While we all wait to see exactly how this will be played out, I took a moment to celebrate how disability is finally being seen as just a part of humanity.

My moment of celebration was cut short when I read about commentator Ann Coulter’s recent description of President Obama as a “retard.” Despite an outcry from people with disabilities and others, she said she was not sorry for her use of the “R” word.

Coulter defended this with an irrational logic: she claimed the word is synonymous with the word “loser.”  But that is the whole point…  The high school kid who yelled “here comes the retard” as I drove my son to school was calling him a “loser.”  That is exactly how that kid wanted my son to feel.

So I can’t fully enjoy the progress we have made with Glee, because there are still those like Ann Coulter who just don’t get that the world has changed.

– Jo Ann Simons

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Abuse of People with Disabilities Cannot be Tolerated

Dear Friends,

I want to share with you an update of an opinion piece I published this week in Commonwealth magazine online.  Please take a moment to consider this serious problem.

–Jay

Abuse of People with Disabilities Cannot be Tolerated: Laws and Attitudes Must Change

By Jay Ruderman

The abuse of children is so disturbing that we will go to any lengths to prevent, educate and prosecute in what can only be called a “war” against child abuse.  However, just as disturbing but often lacking the headlines and the political will to prevent it, is abuse against people with disabilities. Unfortunately many people with disabilities can present a particularly easy target for abuse, as we have learned from recent incidents reported in the news.

In August, a person with a disability was beaten on a subway platform in Boston when he tried to help a woman who was arguing with three men.  Earlier in the year, the father of a child with a disability in New Jersey suspected that his child was being abused by a school teacher and sent his child to school with a hidden recording device.  The vitriol recorded by that teacher makes it too difficult for many to even listen to the entire recording.

These incidents and others like them demonstrate that we remain far from creating an inclusive society where people with disabilities are treated equally to those without a disability.

One can understand how such abuse occurs. Disabilities can prevent a person from getting away from an abuser or defending one’s self, and a person with a disability may be unable to call for help.  Some with disabilities may be unable or limited in their ability to tell anyone what happened to them, making abuse against these individuals particularly ruthless and tragic.

More troubling yet, many people with disabilities don’t have friends or peers to help advocate for them, and this is due in part to the fact that our social, cultural, and employment institutions have not been fully open and welcoming to them.

We know the reporting of such abuse is far below the actual level of occurrence, because it goes unreported so often. This fact compounds the hurt and suffering reflected in the abuse data that we do have.

In one year from 2009 to 2010, cases of serious violent crimes such as rape and sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault against people with disabilities increased from 270,830 to 282,460, according to the United States Department of Justice.

In 2010, such instances of serious violent crime made up about half of all violence against people with disabilities– a rise of 36% from the previous year.

A story that ran on March 12, 2011 in the New York Times focused on appalling incidences in which employees of New York state’s group homes for people with disabilities abused the residents.

The story, “At State-Run Homes, Abuse and Impunity,” described how few allegations of criminal abuse were referred to law enforcement, even though state law requires these allegations be referred to authorities. The story also detailed widespread lack of accountability and oversight of employees, and how 25% of employees who had been accused of sexual, physical, and emotional assault – with each accusation supported by credible evidence – were transferred to work in other state-run homes.

The story reported the case of 47-year-old supervisor accused of sexually abusing a 54-year-old woman with severe disabilities.  Evidence against him included an eye witness and physical evidence found on the victim. Despite the evidence, he was placed on administrative leave and then transferred to another group home.  He eventually was arrested, tried, convicted of a misdemeanor, and spent less than a year in jail.

“Law enforcement officials had trouble explaining the delays and errors in the case and blamed the victim’s inability to communicate,” wrote the reporter in the Times article.

Blaming the victim: haven’t we learned to be better than this?

As a civilized society we cannot tolerate this level of abuse.  It is an indictment of our values and a direct result of the lack of inclusion in our community and in our world.

In recent years, we have tackled the age-old problem of bullying.  We educate our children about the hurt and suffering that result when a child is tormented.   We have embraced a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and we now suspend or expel students when they bully others.

We must take the same approach to abuse of people with disabilities. We must view it as unacceptable in our society and commit to eradicate it at every level.

Yes, we need tougher laws and better enforcement.  I know that as a former prosecutor.  Even more difficult than changing laws– no mean feat in itself– we need to examine our values.

We must look ourselves in the mirror, search our souls, and admit: yes, we must do better.

Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation

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Who Wins When We Team Up with Educators? The Student with a Disability … and Everyone Else

By Guest Blogger Sharon Shapiro-Lacks, Executive Director, Yad HaChazakah

Let me introduce myself: My name is Sharon Shapiro-Lacks and I am the Founder and Executive Director of Yad HaChazakah–The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center (Yad HaChazakah-JDEC).  We are a New York-based empowerment organization for and led by Jews with disabilities, and we provide guidance, resource information, advocacy, and community for people with obvious or hidden disabilities as we promote access to Jewish community life. 

Yad HaChazakah-JDEC takes on many different issues, but at this time of year we get a disproportionate number of calls about school. The Jewish holidays are over and students now can fully immerse themselves in the new school year.  They have met their teachers, rabbis or college professors and each has formed first impressions of the other.  But in order to get down to the business of learning, many students with disabilities need accommodations in order to access the classroom, take examinations, or follow along in class. These considerations add more layers of concern to the student-teacher and parent-teacher relationships. And each year students and parents wonder how amenable the teachers or school will be toward providing the needed accommodations.

Of course it’s a relief for us to work with a teacher who has had prior experience in working with students with disabilities, is motivated, and knows how to access the right resources or make the appropriate accommodations.

But we also hear from countless parents and students this time of year who have met up with a teacher or school administrator who seems to resist the notion that some students have conditions, learning differences, or limitations over which they have no control. Or, even if she understands that the student has a disability that affects the ways in which the student learns, completes assignments, takes tests, or participates in classroom or extra-curricular activities, she may not know how to accommodate the student.  He may make erroneous assumptions about the condition and the nature of the accommodation required, and thereby overwhelms himself into resistance or procrastination.  The teacher or professor may even reject an accommodation on principle, feeling that the accommodation would provide an “unfair” advantage to the student with the disability. This happened to a college student with a learning disability in math who contacted Yad HaChazakah-JDEC for assistance because her statistics teacher would not let her use a particular calculator as an accommodation.

We at Yad HaChazakah recommend that students—and parents, when applicable—do the following prep work:

  1. Understand the disability very well and how it may affect the student’s ability to follow instruction and course content, participate in classroom activities, do assignments, and take exams.
  2. Evaluate what has worked and has not worked in the past.
  3. List whatever accommodations the student may need.  This can range from note-taking to extra time on exams to paraprofessional and professional supports.  Have an appropriate professional support your accommodation request whenever possible.
  4. Make sure that the student has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) on file in his or her school or school district and that it is up to date. If the student is in college, make sure the disability support services office has what it needs in case it has cause to intervene.
  5. Know your rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, state and local regulations, and school policies.

Once the prep work is done, the student and family need to do the most important thing: meet with and get to know everyone who will be working with the student: the teacher/professor, rabbis, guidance counselor/advisor, the disability services office, and so on.  You not only want to tell the school personnel about the student and what he or she needs, you want to get to know the teachers, professors, rabbis, and administrators.  Listen for what they value in their work. Acknowledge the good they do and what they’re striving for.   Share what the student looks forward to learning in the class or classes and what would make it possible for him or her to gain maximum benefit.  Teachers, professors, and rabbis want to feel that their positive impact on their students will last a lifetime.

Toward that end, you will want to show how the appropriate accommodation will make it possible for the student to learn the valuable material and lessons that the teacher wants to convey. Show too how the accommodation will enable the teachers to attend to the educational needs of the other students of the class rather than having to call or pay unnecessary negative attention to the student with the disability.  Anticipate and address the possible concerns, worries, and assumptions teachers may have about the student or the disability. Reassure them that you’re on their team and on their side. Give them whatever information they need in order to provide the accommodations. The less research and work they need to do, the more supportive and cooperative school personnel will be.

Yes, we can and should fall back on “our rights” when we need to.  That said, we should assume the best in those who chose education for their career. You want teachers and school administrators to feel that you are all on the same team with shared visions. When the students, teachers, and parents all care about and address each other’s goals, values, needs, and concerns, all benefit.

– Sharon Shapiro-Lacks

 

 

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Dental Hygiene, Dementia and Disabilities: Looks Like Mom was Right … Again

By Jo Ann Simons, Ruderman Family Foundation Disabilities Advisor and CEO Cardinal Cushing Centers

 Reuter’s  recently reported that: “People who keep their teeth and gums healthy with regular brushing may have a lower risk of developing dementia later in life, according to a U.S. study.”

Researchers at the University of California who followed nearly 5,500 elderly people over an 18-year-period found that those who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were up to 65 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed daily.

“Not only does the state of your mind predict what kind of oral health habits you practice, it may be that your oral health habits influence whether or not you get dementia,” said Annlia Paganini-Hill, who led the study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

This study is very important for those of us in the disability world since poor oral hygiene is often noticed and reported in people with disabilities.  Together with an increased risk of dementia in certain population groups like Down syndrome, this study should be taken very seriously by caregivers and families.

Remember to brush your teeth … even after eating that apple. And don’t forget to thank your mom.

­­ — Jo Ann Simons

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Still a Long Road to Travel: A National Disability Employment Awareness Month Q-and-A

Dear Friends,

As you may know, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in the United States.  This motivated us to ask Jerry Rubin, President and CEO of Jewish Vocational Service in Boston, several questions on the employment of people with disabilities. The Ruderman Family Foundation is proud of our partnership with JVS in our Young Adult Transitions to Work program:

This full-service initiative helps many Boston-area young adults with disabilities prepare for and find jobs that will bring them independence, marketable skills and a brighter future.  We offer you this Q-and-A with Jerry today to inspire discussion and hopefully change in your communities as well.

– Jay Ruderman

Zeh Lezeh: Have you seen public awareness of disability employment issues change over the course of your career?  If so, how?

Jerry Rubin: I have seen public awareness change, though I think we still have a long way to go. Disability issues in general have come out of the shadows, particularly since the passage of the ADA, and as those with disabilities have experienced broader inclusion, this has impacted employment as well.  Twenty years ago, most disability employment efforts involved sheltered workshops, which while an important service, tended to isolate and in some ways hide those with disabilities from the traditional job market, employers, and other employees. Today, more organizations, including our own, have embraced models of competitive employment by which individuals with disabilities are supported in their efforts to find, secure, and retain jobs in mainstream workplaces.  Though this approach does not meet everyone’s needs, it works for far more individuals than we might have thought in the past, and it can be both empowering and transforming, for the disabled individual, their employer and co-workers.  That said, unemployment among people with disabilities remains far above the average for the working population overall, and that is such a waste of talent.  So, we still have a long way to go.

ZL: In your experience, what are the greatest barriers among prospective employers to hiring people with disabilities?

JR: I think that the greatest barriers are ignorance and fear. Many people, whether they are employers or not, have misconceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities. Employers fear that “there will be problems” — with litigation, productivity, and employee relations. Staff are not typically trained and are unsure how to provide reasonable accommodations, or even know what that means. But I think that overall, as with any prejudice, ignorance and lack of experience are the primary barriers.

ZL: In your experience, what are the greatest benefits to employers of a fully inclusive workforce?

JR: The benefits are many. Of course, providing opportunities to talented individuals who can rise to their full potential, and may not have had that opportunity otherwise, is perhaps the greatest benefit. But from a more bottom line perspective, we find that employees with disabilities are among the most dependable and productive employees that employers can hire.  They bring talent and dedication to their workplaces, and as a bonus, as with any diversity effort, disability hiring enhances workplace culture as diverse individuals learn and grow from and with each other.

ZL: How can society best prepare people with disabilities for employment?

JR: At the heart of any effort to increase disability employment is high expectations. If we expect and believe that individuals with disabilities can and will be incredible, talented employees, and we provide them with the skills, and opportunities to prove it, they can and usually will exceed everyone’s expectations.  If we have low expectations, we will get low results. Specifically, I think we need to give individuals with disabilities the skills and tools they need to compete with other candidates through education, training, and guidance. We need to focus on work skills earlier, perhaps as early as elementary school, and certainly in high school. We need to provide serious vocational training that reflects the skills that employers expect and require, and pair that with real work experiences through internships. Finally, we need to include employers from the beginning. We already have many wonderful employers who are deeply committed to hiring individuals with all kinds of abilities and disabilities.  We just need more, and it is up to all of us to get them involved.

ZL: How can the Jewish community best support the employment of people with disabilities?

JR: First: by committing to diversity in our own workplaces, including individuals with disabilities. Second: by focusing even more attention on this issue, and continuing to provide time and resources that support education, training, placement and support services for people with disabilities. In this way, we will live up to our values, and greatly strengthen our community.

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A True Model of Inclusion … At Long Last Progress

By Jo Ann Simon, Ruderman Family Foundation Disabilities Advisor and CEO Cardinal Cushing Centers

The world, especially the disability world, is understandably excited that Valentina Guerrero, a 10-month-old Miami girl with Down syndrome, is now the face of Spanish swimwear designer Dolores Cortés’ 2013 children’s swimwear collection, DC Kids.

I am over the moon.

Over 30 years ago, I saw the need for children with disabilities to be included in advertisements. As a new mom, I looked over the children’s catalogues and advertisements and I never saw a child that resembled my beautiful toddler son with Down syndrome. Without any influence or clout, I wrote some letters to major companies about feeling excluded from advertisements. I thought my son was cute enough to influence buying decisions and more importantly, I was a consumer. The only one who agreed with me was my sweet and always optimistic father. He also thought his only grandchild was not only cute but, handsome and beautiful. And so, in 1981, Jonathan modeled a shirt and hat in the small catalogue of my father’s business–Simons Uniform Company.

I am not sure that his appearance boosted sales but, it was another step in my own personal advocacy journey.

So, while she is not the first child with Down syndrome to model, Valentina is considered the first to land a campaign with a well-known designer. Progress is made. And the inclusive world I dream about is getting closer to being a reality.

I could not be happier.

–Jo Ann Simons

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Norwood Ravenswood: A Model of Inclusion for Great Britain and Beyond

Friends,

For the last few months we have been telling you about each of the recipients of the 2012 Ruderman Prize in Disability. Today in our final installment we introduce Norwood Ravenswood, the UK’s largest Jewish charity supporting children, families and adults with a range of disabilities in their quest for full inclusion and independence.

Each year the 217-year-old organization provides over 100 support services in London and Southeast England to some 7,000 people, including: family counseling and referrals, special education programs, after-school clubs, respite care for families, adoption services, supported housing and lifelong learning opportunities.

We especially recognize Norwood Ravenswood’s exemplary employment program, which provides advocacy, skill development, training, apprenticeship and job placement services. It also works directly with employers and the larger community to combat societal prejudice.  The result: many more people can now enjoy the dignity and self-sufficiency that only a job can give.

The Ruderman Prize judges were impressed by Norwood Ravenswood’s multiple innovations in services for individuals of all ages with intellectual disabilities. Their commitment to ensuring that the individual comes first is reflected in their person-centered planning approach, training, apprenticeship and placement programs, and their encouragement of broad participation in community-based employment.

From all of us at the Ruderman Family Foundation, congratulations to Norwood Ravenswood for your groundbreaking work with Britain’s Jewish community.

– Jay Ruderman

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The Boston Globe Helps Spread the Word: Multi-Sector Partnerships are Win-Win for Jobs for People with Disabilities

Friends,

I invite you to check out the following Op-Ed by myself and Joanne F. Goldstein, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development in Massachusetts It ran last week in The Boston Globe online; for your convenience we have posted it both as text and in a link. I’d be interested to hear your reactions, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Note: We will not be posting a blog this coming Monday in observance of Shemini Atzeret. We look forward to re-joining you next Thursday, October 11.

– Jay Ruderman

THE PODIUM

A Template For Job Training Programs For People With Disabilities

As the nation’s economy continues to recover and people return to the workforce, it is important to be mindful of the fact that people with disabilities still face barriers in the labor market.

In July, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data that showed good news, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities fell to 13.6 percent in the second quarter of 2012. Yet it also showed that only one in five were participating in the labor market. The unemployment rate does not reflect that many people with disabilities, frustrated by workplaces that are unwelcome, may have simply given up their job searches or that the unemployment rate for those without disabilities is 8.4 percent, over five points lower.

Such sobering statistics remind us that we cannot be complacent in our work on behalf of people with disabilities. People with disabilities want to work, and given the opportunity, are among the most committed and dedicated employees. They often contribute to creating positive cultures within their organizations.

We must encourage more employers to be open to – and even proactive in – hiring a person with a disability. A handful of companies have been pioneers in this regard; they recognize the positive impact these hiring practices have on their bottom lines.

There is a concerted federal effort to create opportunities for people with disabilities. President Obama issued an executive order that set a goal: by 2015, ensure that 100,000 federal workforce hires are people with disabilities. This order has already reversed a nine-year decline in the federal employment participation rate for working age people with disabilities.

In Massachusetts, the Patrick administration continues to advance a number of initiatives as well. Governor Patrick’s Strategic Plan to Make Massachusetts a Model Employer for People with Disabilities provides a set of recommendations for affirmatively promoting the hiring and retention of people with disabilities in the executive branch of state government. Since the effort commenced in 2007, the percentage of persons with a disability employed in the executive branch increased by approximately 70 percent. The state also secured grant funding to outfit the Commonwealth’s 34 One-Stop Career Centers with assistive technology, and it restructured programs to be more responsive to the needs of clients with disabilities.

But no one sector can do this alone. Partnership allows foundations, private industry, and the public sector to leverage their advantages and overcome their limitations.

When the three work together, they maximize their impact and expedite progress for people with disabilities. This is the model that the Ruderman Family Foundation supports with its funding of Transitions to Work, a template for future job training programs for people with disabilities.

Those enrolled in Transitions to Work learn, help, and develop specific job skills within Hebrew Senior Life’s NewBridge on the Charles campus, a retirement community just outside of Boston. Following specific training and learning, individuals are qualified to work, either full-time or part-time, at NewBridge, and are matched with vacant positions when they become available.

This innovative program, with support from the Ruderman Family Foundation and Combined Jewish Philanthropies and run by Jewish Vocational Services, is instilling something even more valuable than job training: self-esteem.

This year, Governor Patrick visited NewBridge on the Charles and praised the program for its innovative approach. As he spoke to the young men and women in the program, he talked about the irony that despite this very rough economy, there are still thousands of jobs in the state that remain unfilled because there are no qualified candidates. We must not accept this statistic.

We believe that partnership is the answer. We accomplish more together. We encourage employers, foundations, and the public sector to explore opportunities for collaboration. Such partnerships are win-win, and we believe they are the sharpest arrow in our quiver to increase employment among people with disabilities.

Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Joanne F. Goldstein is secretary of Labor and Workforce Development in Massachusetts.

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Growing Inclusive Synagogues in New Jersey: MetroWest ABLE

Friends,

Each week we introduce you to one of the ten recipients of the 2012 Ruderman Prize in Disability. Today we feature MetroWest ABLE of New Jersey, which is staking out new territory in creating a rich network of inclusive synagogues for members of all abilities.

Established by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey in 2005, MetroWest ABLE (an acronym for Access, Belonging and Life Enrichment) is a collaborative network of agencies working together to serve people with disabilities using a variety of creative approaches.

ABLE’s “Kehilla Shlema” Initiative (which means “whole and complete community”) aims for full access and participation in meaningful synagogue life through a range of program initiatives.  For example…

  • MetroWest ABLE’s Coordinator provides one-on-one information, referral, and problem-solving for family members of people with disabilities.
  • MetroWest “Madrichim” (Leadership Training Program) teaches teenagers to serve as shadow supports for children with disabilities in inclusive educational and recreational programs.
  • The annual Synagogue Summit Conference held each February – during Jewish Disability Awareness Month — convenes professionals, parents and lay leaders from 17 congregations to share best practices and mutual support.

The Ruderman Prize judges were impressed not only with MetroWest ABLE’s ability to foster inclusive synagogues for children across all Jewish denominations, but also with the enthusiasm and dedication of the rabbis, professionals and lay leaders who accept the ABLE challenge to build fully welcoming worship communities.

From all of us here at the Ruderman Family Foundation, congratulations to MetroWest ABLE for your exemplary work in building inclusive synagogues. Other Jewish communities have much to learn from your dedication to collaborative programming and comprehensive inclusion.

– Jay Ruderman

Note: “Zeh Lezeh” will not be publishing on Monday, October 1 due to the Sukkot holiday. We look forward to returning on Thursday, October 4.

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