By Michael Levy
A wish has no budgetary limitations. Because it is a genuine longing coming straight from the heart, it is valid even if it never comes true. That’s why making a wish is so uplifting.
My wish, as Jewish Disability Awareness month concludes, is that individuals with disabilities, their families, the professionals who work with them, the media, social and religious organizations and foundations, would all welcome and encourage vigorous voices and challenging choices.
Imagine a “Disability Forum” Where All Voices Could Be Heard
At “A College Night,” high school seniors learn about educational institutions, and then consider which college fits their needs and aspirations. At a job fair, perspective employees visit company representatives and decide where they might want to work.
In a “disability forum,” organizations could present their approach to disability. Participants could explore inclusion, empowerment, medical-centered models and person-centered strategies. They could consider the long-term outcomes of different approaches to disability. Reporters attending these forums would begin to realize that there is more than one way to present Jews with disabilities in their articles.
Such forums would counter the tendency of organizations to (unintentionally or otherwise) position themselves as “the authority” when it comes to Jews with disabilities.
Armed with the knowledge gained from vigorous voices, more individuals with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities and the media who feature the “Jewish disabled” might confront some difficult questions:
Does disability awareness unwittingly send the message that a disability is a person’s central and defining characteristic?
What happens when a child with a disability is always in the position of a taker, with no opportunity to be a giver?
Why are Jews with physical disabilities sometimes lumped together with Jews who have intellectual disabilities?
Should funders direct their resources to supporting “special” schools and camps or to accommodating the needs of students and campers with disabilities in typical environments?