By Jo Ann Simons, Ruderman Family Foundation Disabilities Advisor and CEO Cardinal Cushing Centers
With Hanukkah approaching, I can relax knowing that my shopping is complete, my candles have been purchased, and the chanukiahs (menorahs) are cleaned and waiting to be lit. So I have had time to reflect on the miracle of the holiday.
Is it possible that the high expectations we have for ourselves and for our children began with the dedication of the Holy Temple and the victory over tyranny? I like to think that although there was only enough oil for one night, there were believers among the Maccabees who knew that more was possible from the oil. When the sacred oil lasted eight nights instead of one, did we learn that setting high expectations might be the best route to success?
I think so. And I believe that we in the Jewish community, as in the larger U.S. society, are finally applying that principle of high expectations to people with disabilities.
For too long U.S. society has acted as though, as far as people with disabilities were concerned, the oil would only last one night. So that’s all we expected. We built inhumane institutions and filled them, we provided inadequate medical care and little if any dental care, we segregated children into separate schools and apart from their siblings, we built “special” swimming pools and recreational facilities, and we operated “sheltered” training sites while providing little in the way of employment opportunities.
But there were believers among us who envisioned a different world. Led by people with disabilities and their families, these modern-day Maccabees believed in the light and set high expectations. They have shown us that people with disabilities can lead completely inclusive lives.
So, as we strike the match to light our chanukiah, let those candles be our call to action. Let us end the tyranny against people with disabilities. Let us empty our institutions. Let us build community living options. Let us train more medical professionals. Let us provide access to health and dental care. Let us end segregated education and include children in typical schools. Let us promote the success of inclusive post-secondary education and make community based employment available to all who want to work.
This year I will recite the traditional Hanukkah prayers, and in addition each candle will symbolize a basic human longing of people with disabilities:
First night: for inclusive education
Second night: for community recreation
Third night: for health care parity
Fourth night: for economic self sufficiency
Fifth night: for access to higher education
Sixth night: for community housing
Seventh night: for real employment opportunities
Eighth night: for family supports
Please join me in dedicating this Hanukkah to the sacred struggle for fairness, freedom, and high expectations.
— Jo Ann Simons