The Jewish community is celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness Month this month. It is a time to bring more attention and awareness to the issue of disability. I do not know when it started. I do know that it did not exist in 1979, when my son was born with Down syndrome and 4 heart defects.
I know this because the issue of disability and especially intellectual disability was something that made most of the Jewish community uncomfortable. Religious women were being told, by their rabbi’s, to give up children with Down syndrome for adoption and then require that they be adopted by Jewish families.
As a Board member of the National Down Syndrome Congress at that time, it made me and other Jewish board members feel much shame, as we knew that this requirement meant that it was unlikely that these children would be adopted. Few Jewish families were lining up to adopt children with disabilities.
I learned that Golda Meir was so ashamed of her granddaughter with Down syndrome that she refused to acknowledge her existence and she wrote Meira out of her autobiography.
It was against this backdrop that I was determined to do my part to make my son a full and equal member of our Jewish community. I can actually say that he has been welcomed and celebrated each step of the way: at 12 weeks old, he began day care at the North Shore Jewish Community Center and his therapist came there to provide him services and the other children learned sign language alongside of him. He continued at the “J” in all aspects of camping where he was the only camper with a significant disability. He began religious studies at age 5 at Temple Emanuel and became a Bar Mitzvah, Confirmed and Post-Confirmed.
This is not about Jon but about the fact that our community needs an awareness month at all. It’s actually sad that we join the list below (and I am not sure that it is even a complete list) in vying for attention to disability issues.
Disability Awareness Calendar 2014
Jewish Disability Awareness Month
AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month
Intellectual and Developmental Disability Awareness Month
World Down Syndrome Day March 21, 2014
National Autism Awareness Month
Mental Health Month
National Children’s Mental Health Week May 2-8, 2014
Mental Health Awareness Week May 12-18, 2014
National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week May 4-9, 2014
National Schizophrenia Awareness Week May 19-25, 2014
National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day June 27, 2014
National Deaf Awareness Month
National Disability Employment Awareness Month
ADHD Awareness Month
National Down Syndrome Month
Rett Syndrome Awareness Month
Disability History and Awareness Month
Learning Disability Awareness Month
Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) – First week in October. October 3-9, 2014
World Mental Health Day – October 10, 2014
OCD Awareness Week October 9-15, 2014
Epilepsy Awareness Month
Mental Health Wellness Week November 9 – 15, 2014
International Day of Persons with Disability (United Nations) – December 3, 2014
Some might suggest that disability awareness should be celebrated all year long but I suggest that I hope that time comes, very soon, when awareness months are not necessary because people with disabilities are fully included in Jewish life.
Jo Ann Simons is a Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers