Inclusion is a State of Mind

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month. My expertise in special needs education allows me to bring knowledge and programs to Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough as well as to the greater community.

There’s a buzz in the Jewish Disability World right now.  February 1 marked the start of the fifth annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month; affectionately known by those of us who love acronyms as JDAM.  Just as the name implies, it is a month-long chance to raise awareness about disabilities in our various organizations and synagogues while highlighting the many great resources, programs and opportunities that we offer.  And when it also sparks a community to try something new, or open their doors a little wider, even better!

But despite this undercurrent of excited energy as the month approaches, I find myself thinking that I wish we didn’t need this dedicated month at all.  Because honestly, what stands in the way of inclusion in most communities is attitude.  I recently read the following in an article by the ACA (American Camping Association) that has obvious universal applications:

The biggest barrier to creating an inclusive recreation or camping program is not the lack of resources, knowledge, or accessible facilities. The biggest barrier is actually one of attitude. In order to provide a recreation or camp program that is authentically inclusive, we must understand that inclusion is first and foremost a philosophy. It is a mindset and a belief that everyone has value and something to contribute. It is a willingness to see the ability in everyone and match skill with challenge. It is an understanding that what our programs really provide at their heart is the opportunity to build relationships, learn who we are, and develop skills. It is being committed to the process of making our programs accessible — not only in the physical sense, but also by ensuring that each person’s participation is meaningful….Once we understand that inclusion is not a place, a program, or a time-limited opportunity, and that it is a state of being and a way of operating that says “all are welcome,” we can overcome the practical barriers of resources, knowledge, and accessible facilities.

I am so proud to be an integral part of a community that is committed to this ideal and doing what we can.  At Temple Beth-El (http://www.ourbethel.org/) we are not perfect, but that’s what makes it all the more exciting.  I get to go to work every day and think about what we do well, while helping to discover ways that we can do it even better.

So as we celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness Month let us share all the wonderful things we are doing, reflect upon the things we can do even better and maybe together we can ensure that our awareness will last all year.

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