Heeding Special Needs in the Local Community

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This week's editorial reflects on Jewish Disability Awareness Month and how our community addresses the needs of the intellectually and physically disabled.

Jewish Disability Awareness Month is a good time to take stock of how we are doing when it comes to addressing the needs of the intellectually and physically disabled members of our community.  

The designation of February as the month to focus on this issue began in 2009 as a collaborative effort among many national and local Jewish organizations. The idea was to raise awareness about the physical and psychological barriers that prevent full integration in our institutions. Although designating a special month might seem like an artificial construct, it provides yet another opportunity to call attention to what is and what isn’t happening.


What we see is a mixed bag. On one hand, the level of awareness has jumped exponentially in recent years. At no time have the issues surrounding special needs attracted more attention. And yet, we all know it’s still not enough.

This week’s cover package highlights just a small sampling of the programs offered by our local Jewish institutions to reach out to populations with special needs. The stories about the JEVS program for independent living and Chabad’s Friendship Circle bring to life the compelling and often inspiring stories of families who live and cope with these disabilities every day.  

These programs are among a wide spectrum of local groups engaged in supporting those with special needs. Other examples include Jewish Family and Children’s Service, which is holding its third annual ReelAbilities: Philadelphia Disabilities Film Festival next month to raise funds for its Special Needs Center; JCHAI, which supports independent living programs for people with intellectual disabilities and autism; and the Jewish Learning Venture, which provides educational programming and teacher training.

 These and other groups work together as part of the Jewish Special Needs Consortium, with advocates meeting regularly to coordinate and collaborate on common issues.  

It’s the human beings we must keep in mind as we think about these issues and push our organizations to be more inclusive.  

The poignant cover story of Rabbi Charles Sherman, a native Philadelphian who recounts his journey as the father of a quadriplegic son, reminds us of the daily trauma and triumphs of living with disabilities.  

The challenge to foster and fund inclusion in our community clearly must carry on beyond one month.

But if this month serves as an annual catalyst to spark more conversation and action, then we’ll take it.

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