The challenge of inclusion
Many thanks to The Chronicle for its Opinion piece “What is disability inclusion?” (Feb. 18) in recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. The editorial did an excellent job of highlighting the critical difference between “helping” individuals with disabilities as an act of charity and actually welcoming them as valued members of the community on an ongoing basis.
At Jewish Residential Services we have been working for more than two decades to provide adults living with intellectual or mental health disabilities opportunities to build upon their strengths and gain the skills and confidence they need to lead full and satisfying lives. Through our supportive living, rehabilitative, social and educational programming we serve more than 250 individuals with disabilities and their families each year. Every person who turns to JRS for services and support faces significant challenges in his or her life. Each of these persons has valuable talents and abilities as well. Like all of us, people with disabilities want safe and affordable housing, a dignified life, employment or other meaningful daily activities, choices, friends and a sense of inclusion in the community of their choice. JRS works to support people in achieving those goals.
But the truth is: Inclusion is a two-way street. And all too often people living with long-term disabilities find themselves excluded or marginalized from their communities, despite their best efforts. Even when they are able to reside in a particular community (still an issue for many), they are unable to truly become a part of the life of that community. For inclusion to happen, there must be an openness and willingness on the part of the community. The Pittsburgh Jewish community is commendable for the great strides we have taken over the past 20 years, but our work is not done. When we are successful in moving beyond our comfort zone, in shifting our attitudes and in developing new ways of reaching out, both personally and through our institutions so that every person in our community is able to contribute and feels valued, then we will be able to call ourselves inclusive. We will be rewarded with a stronger, more vibrant, diverse and cohesive Jewish community. As the Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah, asks and answers, “When will redemption come? When we grant all others what we claim for ourselves.”
This year’s Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month has come and gone. Meeting the challenge of inclusion does not have an end date.
Executive Director, JRS
Chair, JRS Judaic Committee