New Population Study Reveals Communal Ignorance, Spotlights Need for Change

by Jason Lieberman

While earning a BA in American Studies, I learned the importance of community studies and censuses as indicators of both the relative standing of communal subgroups, and communal needs and priorities. As I studied Nonprofit Management, earning an MPA, I learned their importance, as primary tools for funders, setting allocation priorities, and organizations, setting program and service objectives. Therefore, as a disability advocate, firmly entrenched in the Jewish community, I eagerly anticipated the publication of the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York.

I was disappointed, not by what it said, but by what it omitted. Rather than showing our engagement, and growing communal impact, through its omissions, the study demonstrates the extent to which communal ignorance persists concerning people with disabilities and their families’ impact on all aspects of Jewish communal life.

By my count, the study mentions the terms “disability” and “disabilities” each four times, all in sections referring to human services requested or unemployment and poverty, and the term “special needs” once, in reference to requesting human services. “Disabled” appears three times in the demographics section, but only as a cause for unemployment and poverty. Furthermore, while education appears 38 times, and Jewish education 11 times, special education, of either the Jewish or secular variety, was not mentioned. Additionally, while the study mentions engaging Jews of almost every other subgroup, we are ignored in that context.

Taken together, these facts suggest that the study’s authors view people with disabilities and their families as solely needing care, rather than people capable of being engaged, empowered and integrated community members. This, is not only untrue, and a disservice to the disability community, but, by ignoring over 20% of the population’s impact on both the community’s challenges and opportunities, most likely causes inaccurate assumptions and conclusions. In doing so, the authors powerfully demonstrate the need for more effective advocacy.

Let us, the Jewish disability community and its allies, therefore, use this report as a call to action, mobilizing through education, empowerment and advocacy, for fuller Jewish communal appreciation, recognition and integration of people with disabilities and their families.

Jason Lieberman, disability advocate and Vice President and Treasurer of Matan: For Every Child. For Every Community. The Gift of Jewish Learning, who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at 11 months.

cross-posted at Zeh Lezeh