JFS Disability and Inclusion Month
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Together with the entire Shalom Austin organization, Jewish Family Service of Austin is proud to join with Jewish organizations and communities from across the world in this unified effort to raise awareness and highlight resources for people with disabilities.
As Jews, we have a religious obligation to actively include people with disabilities in our community and to advocate for their full inclusion in all aspects of society. An inclusive community is a stronger community, and while this is true across all people, Jewish values and traditions provide teachable moments that help us to advance inclusion. Tikkun olam (repairing the world), gemilut chassadim (acts of loving kindness), kavod (respecting others), welcoming guests and visiting the sick are just a few Jewish values that depend on inclusion in order to be practiced to their full extent. Doing all we can to include our community in its entirety helps us all live up to our potential as human beings.
In the Austin Jewish community, a core initiative in the area of disability and inclusion support is the Wellness with A Disability support group offered by Jewish Family Service. This group is geared specifically for Jewish adults living with a disability. The group has met each Friday afternoon on the JCC campus for over 15 years. During that lengthy span, group members have joined together each week along with a professional facilitator to celebrate Shabbat, to provide peer support to each other, and to learn about coping strategies and community resources that can help enhance their lives. The group remains vital and active today, and there is opportunity for new members to join. Jewish adults with a disability are encouraged and welcome to inquire about participating. Interested individuals may contact Jewish Family Service at 512-250-1043 to discuss participation.
In 2018, JFS is also utilizing grant funding to support inclusion opportunities for people with disabilities to participate fully in Jewish life. These funds will be used in diverse ways such as providing American Sign Language interpreter services for members of the deaf community at important events or meetings, providing additional inclusion counselors at the JCC’s Camp Shalom during the summer, which will enable more children with a disability to attend camp, and lending support to the JCC Early Childhood Program faculty through training and increased staffing in classrooms when the need arises.
Local congregations are also engaged in their own disability and inclusion support initiatives.
Across Austin, many organizations and individuals that are part of our Jewish community are engaged in meaningful work to advance inclusion for people with disabilities. JDAIM presents an opportunity to reflect on our progress and the needs that remain. Together, we can foster a more inclusive Jewish community that emphasizes the value, dignity and capabilities of each and every individual. ■