Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month

February 01, 2021

Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month

While each JDAIM is extremely special, acknowledging inclusion in the midst of a pandemic feels so significant.

When the pandemic first hit, the world was forced to go virtual. We moved our get-togethers and holidays online. The first of which was Passover. While families missed their traditional Passover Seders, they knew they could handle it. The Jewish community has triumphed time after time. Managing a Wi-Fi connection so the Seder dinner could be hosted on Zoom would be no major feat.

However, as time moved on, the world grew tired and lonely. The novelty of our online connections soon wore off. We longed for human touch, we were stressed, confused and wanted more. We became sick of being confined to homes.

To many with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), the pain of isolation is nothing new. It’s not tied to the pandemic, but is something that has been an issue from the beginning of time. Many with IDD rely on their family or staff for transportation. They cannot simply jump in a car and go where they please. Even if they get to where they’d like to go, there may be physical barriers in the way such as a lack of accessible parking or a space that does not easily accommodate equipment such as walkers or wheelchairs. If physical barriers are not an issue, then socials barriers potentially are. Humans have created unwritten social rules. We say “Hey how’s it goin?” even if we are not actually inquiring about one's day. We gossip to fit in even though we are aware that this behavior is typically not appropriate. We’ve decided that sneezing, coughing and yawning in public are completely acceptable where other bodily functions are not. These unwritten social rules are very hard to teach because, while completely subjective, we’ve all somehow agreed on them. For those with IDD, these social rules can be difficult to follow and, if not followed correctly, it can lead to others not accepting them. Someone with IDD could be in a crowded synagogue or church and yet feel absolutely alone. Again, for many with IDD, isolation has nothing to do with the pandemic.

Now, I’m not writing this to get pity for the IDD community. In fact, that is the last thing I want. I know very well that my pals with IDD are a fun-loving resilient bunch. I am writing this to challenge you. We are still stuck at home. We’ve already watched anything worth watching on Netflix, our family walks have lost their allure and we’ve mastered the art of bread making. With all this time off on our hands, we are ready for a new activity. I’m challenging you to do a bit of homework on your own time. Take some time to reflect. Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month. Awareness: How aware are you of various IDD diagnoses? Are you aware of any members in your congregation or community with IDD? Acceptance: Is your community one that truly champions acceptance? Are you yourself accepting of those with IDD and their differences? And most importantly, inclusion. Soon we will be back to normal. There is a future ahead that will include parties, large gatherings and all the other social events that we have so dearly missed. It is time to ask ourselves: When our world returns to normal, how will we ensure that no one feels isolated and that our space is inclusive to all?

- Abby Frantz, JF&CS Community Access Program Manager