Seeing Abilities in Those with Disabilities

Deb Weiner

How does the Jewish community include individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities? In all walks of life, spiritual, educational, recreational and social, how do we help create a warm and safe space for this underserved population? Keshet is an organization that provides answers to these questions for the Jewish community and beyond.

Seeing Abilities in Those with Disabilities

The power of words

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Mark Twain once said, "The difference between the right word and almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

The words we use have an effect on people. The way you say something can influence a person's entire day. How many times have you said something when your intentions are good, but they are perceived negatively?

The language we use to refer to persons with disabilities shapes our beliefs and ideas about them. Words have power; old, inaccurate and/or inappropriate descriptions preserve negative stereotypes as well as barriers. When we describe people by their labels of medical, physical or cognitive diagnoses, we devalue and disrespect them as individuals.

People are sensitive…I'm sensitive. I've always tried to be very careful with what I say and how I say it because as the sensitive and empathetic person I like to think I am, it pains me when my words hurt, regardless of the intention.

In the Jewish community, February is recognized as Jewish Disability Awareness Month. JDAM offers an excellent opportunity to recognize, raise awareness, and promote meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in all aspects of Jewish life. Everyone has the right to live a meaningful life with integrity, so I ask you this question - how can you help someone with special needs have a meaningful day, every day?

The answer begins with recognizing that the person always comes first. For example, would you say special needs people or individuals with special needs? By recognizing the individual first, you're acknowledging that they are more than their disability. By recognizing them as capable individuals and acknowledging their strengths, it empowers them. This small step creates an environment where they can strive for their independence and reach their maximum potential.

Keshet is encouraging places of worship, organizations, and individuals to spread the word about abilities awareness.

  • Share a personal story with your congregation
  • Ask your rabbi to speak from the pulpit about abilities awareness on one Shabbat during February
  • Lead an abilities awareness activity at your place of worship
  • Advertise information to your fellow congregants about abilities awareness and using respectful language
  • Schedule a Keshet speaker to address your membership on abilities awareness

Leadership within the Keshet community as well as the greater Jewish community is needed during this time so that this initiative can have the greatest possible impact for individuals with special needs. It only takes one person to make a difference - it could be you!


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