Earlier this month, I wrote about the need to reformJewish professional development opportunities to meet the goals of inclusion. I believe that we need discussions about disabilities to become mainstream, we need keynote addresses by people with disabilities and we need the vision and goals for every professional development workshop or conference to reflect a commitment to inclusion.
Our promotional materials should state that we are inclusive and accessible. Our registration materials should use inclusive language and ask potential participants what accommodations they will need. To be sure, breakout sessions at every conference focused on meeting the needs of diverse learners or ways to facilitate inclusion would be wonderful; but that is not the only way. Workshops themselves, on any topic, must meet the needs of diverse learners; and we, as presenters, must actively state this as an intentional goal. We must ensure that every presenter at every conference uses inclusive, person-first language. All too often has inclusive planning been an effort in reinventing the wheel, starting from scratch for each conference and/or not sharing lessons learned across platforms. We can and must build on past successes to continue the trajectory forward.
And there is another significant area where we could experience leadership by example to push the agenda of true inclusion forward. This is in the realm of funding and philanthropy. Our generous philanthropists will send a powerful message to all of our institutions if they are seeking truly inclusive organizations and programs for their grants and awards. Jay Ruderman, a leading philanthropist in the field of Jewish disability inclusion, states in an article from the NY Jewish Week, “We are not advocating that philanthropists stop funding their current projects and switch to exclusively supporting programs which are fully inclusive of people with disabilities. Just the opposite! Our aim is to show funders how projects they advocate for can become more inclusive, can reach out and help more people.” When funders ensure that the programs they support are inclusive, it sends a powerful and consistent message.
A wonderful example of this was the 2013 The Covenant Award, which honored Howard Blas among its three recipients. Blas is the longtime director of the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah, an eight-week overnight camping program for 60 campers with special needs, fully integrated within a summer camp attracting 800 children and teens. Other prominent awards offered by Jewish philanthropists include the Grinspoon Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education and Jewish Educator Awards funded by the Milken Family Foundation. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if two things happened; first that each year at least one of the awardees has a specific focus in the area of Jewish disabilities inclusion and second, as Ruderman encourages, that these philanthropic organizations ensure that all of their recipients come from inclusive communities?
Leadership by example is possible if we make the commitment.