The Third ADVANCE: The Ruderman Jewish Disabilities Funding Conference is nine days away, on May 8th in New York. You might ask, “Do we really need another conference?” I answer with a loud Yes!
Inclusion of people with disabilities, my life’s work, is a challenging and important aspect of life in the Jewish Community. Families increasingly demand it, people with disabilities are vehement about it and professionals of all stripes study, promote and implement it. Yet, all too often, Jews with disabilities remain segregated and isolated from the day to day life of their communities. Inclusion is part values, part skill, part law and part human rights. The ADVANCE conference is focused on providing information and inspiration to funders and funding organizations in the Jewish community that can make a difference in the lives of Jews with disabilities. The focus is on inclusion across the lifespan, and across the institutions in our communities that support families and all people, not solely people with disabilities.
There is momentum in our communities towards inclusion of Jews with disabilities. People who have worked with and in the Jewish community for a long time on this issue say they can “feel it.” Malcolm Gladwell, in his 2000 book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” talks about those times where, after years of struggle and work, something goes from a small activity to mainstream and popular. We are at that point, I think, with inclusion in the Jewish Community. Movement from programs that either segregate or completely exclude people with disabilities to those that include them and, especially when they are children, their families. The Jewish community in North America, and worldwide has taken up the mantle of inclusion, to help a significant part of our society, people with disabilities, become part of the Jewish community everywhere.
The Greatest Lesson
The ADVANCE Conference brings together funding organizations with program experts-those who are operating inclusive programs, those who advocate for them and those who study them. The Ruderman Family Foundation is focused, as they say, like a laser beam on this issue. The ADVANCE conference is part of that focus. Inclusion in all aspects of Jewish life is a long term process. Changes and advances are taking place daily. By coming together to learn, to be inspired, to question the how and why of inclusion, we will, working together, strengthen the Jewish community. Not just for people with disabilities but for the entire community. When we support people with disabilities and their families we make our communities stronger. We show our sons and daughters without disabilities that all people have value. What better lesson could there be?
Steven M. Eidelman is the H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Human Services Policy and Leadership, and the Faculty Director of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Delaware.