In Genesis 1:27, we read that Adam, and by extension, all people, was created in “the image of God.” This teaches us that there is holiness in all people, regardless of their physical, sensory, emotional or intellectual abilities. Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.
Each individual can contribute in some way to the community and the world. Pirke Avot 4:3 says: “Do not despise any person, and do not disparage any object. For there is none who does not have his/her hour and there is no object that does not have its place.” It is our responsibility to provide opportunities for the realization of each person’s contributions and to remove or mitigate obstacles, as Leviticus 19:14 warns, “Do not curse a person who is deaf and do not place a stumbling block in front of a person who is blind.”
We are also reminded of the importance of education in creating an inclusive community: Jewish tradition teaches us to “educate every child according to his way” (Proverbs 22:6). In so doing, we commit ourselves not only to academic achievement, but also to the development of a Jewish identity, which includes a sense of “belonging” as a community member.
The work of creating inclusive communities and an open society is not only a matter of resources but also how we think about people who have disabilities – and the potential for positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities is significant.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs:
- Recognizes the inherent dignity within every person created in God’s image;
- Believes in the imperative to work towards the full participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish life and that all members of the Jewish community share the responsibility of achieving that goal.
- Urges all member organizations to draw attention to the abilities of people with disabilities not to be discriminated against in: hiring, promotion and retention at all levels of work;
- Recognizes all people with disabilities are entitled to inclusive educational opportunities.
- Affirms the importance of ensuring people with disabilities can achieve independence and autonomy to the greatest extent possible and that people with disabilities should play a central role in the design and implementation of the support they receive.
- Recognizes the financial challenges that many families with members who have disabilities face and the importance of supporting these families with appropriate public and private resources
The community relations field should:
- Advocate that members of the Jewish community who have disabilities have access to and within community facilities, camps, agencies, schools, and places of worship.
- Call upon the United States Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.[i]
- Review the Convention [on the Rights of People with Disabilities] and use it as an educational tool to raise awareness and to change attitudes towards individuals with disabilities.
- Call upon the U.S. Congress to fund federal programs which support people with disabilities.
- Conduct disability education, awareness-raising campaigns, and training in order to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities.
- Help to create the conditions that expect, encourage and support individuals with disabilities to participate in all aspects of Jewish community life, organizations and governance.
- Plan for and include both children and adults with disabilities in the programming and outreach of the Community Relations Councils to the degree it is fair and appropriate.
- Recommend that Jewish communities create an accessibility study and consult with people with disabilities and caregivers in order to plan and implement physical, communication, programmatic or schedule changes to Jewish community institutions.
- Develop relationships with other community organizations that support people with disabilities so that opportunities and areas for cooperation, volunteering and education may be explored, enhanced and actualized.
- Support advocacy by its member organizations for public policies, programs and funding toward the goal of full inclusion of people with disabilities into society and to benefit the needs of people with disabilities.
- Emphasize the importance that qualified trained and compensated caregivers have on the quality of life for people with disabilities, their families and the entire community.
- Should prepare and circulate resource materials that foster programming advocacy for people with disabilities and include individuals with disabilities when preparing these materials.