In the nearly 10 years since February was designated Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), The Associated has made progress in raising awareness and fostering inclusion of people with disabilities.
In order for individuals with special needs to flourish, we must continuously learn about best practices and adapt our services accordingly.
This month, the JCC staff will participate in training to ensure that programs and services are even more inclusive. This training is built around current research that states that self-sufficiency and self-esteem come from full participation in mainstream society.
Nowhere is this more important than in our workplaces, where it’s critical we incorporate best practices. In the past, there was the belief that those with special needs thrived when working in environments with their peers. Today, we understand that meaningful employment is often achieved in a fully integrated workplace.
Jewish Community Services (JCS) is embracing this paradigm. Its career center has dedicated professionals who assist individuals with special needs. Not only does JCS work closely with Baltimore employers by identifying jobs and matching skills, it trains employees with special needs about workplace culture and self-advocacy. After a job placement is made, JCS professionals assist both the employee and employer in this transition.
From an educational standpoint, SHEMESH provides support for Jewish children with learning differences to reach their full intellectual, academic, emotional and social potential in a Jewish setting. The Macks Center for Jewish Education offers children with special needs and their families free educational advocacy services in public schools, including preparation for Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings.
The Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance (BJAA) website, launched in 2009, is a comprehensive tool that provides resources to individuals with special needs and their families. It showcases a full cadre of services, including local, state and federal resources.
JDAIM is a wonderful opportunity for our community to dialogue around our special needs efforts. Yet it should be a springboard for our efforts year-round to ensure that our entire community can fully participate in a quality Jewish life. As The Associated’s Caring Commission continues its work this spring, we will assess inclusive practices within our system and how to serve people with disabilities and their families.
Lynn B. Sassin and Howard Feldman are co-chairs of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Caring Commission.