February is Jewish Disability Awareness and inclusion Month—formerly Jewish Disability Awareness Month.
Which means that every time this month that I pop into FaceBook, Twitter, or other social gathering places—not to mention the many times I connect with friends at shul and elsewhere—I am incredibly conscious of my role as educator on behalf of the disability cause.
But, really, isn’t that my role as Yismehu Director? And as blogger, Hebrew teacher, and temple member?
In fact, you might say that any time I have an alliyah, chant Torah, read announcements on Friday evening, attend a committee or membership meeting, participate in Torah study, teach anything to anybody anywhere, step inside Target, , or simply drop by a friend’s home for coffee I am a walking-talking lesson on disability and inclusion.
The reasons are pretty obvious:
** I am blind. So I cannot appreciate facial expressions and your lovely smile. In fact, it might be better for both of us if you identify yourself when you greet me –especially if the context is out of the ordinary.
**I read Braille. Which comes in handy for joining in with study and meetings when I can prepare my own materials; but which poses a tricky situation when last minute documents are provided only in print for others.
**I don’t drive. Actually, it’s more a matter of my inability to pass the vision test to acquire a driver’s license. So I frequently rely upon the generous hearts of my husband and dear friends to tote me where I need to go.
**I don’t schmooze like you do. Because I can’t easily float around a social setting, I might appear less than friendly. But if you come up to me… well, you’ll find out otherwise.
As you can tell, many kind people accommodate my limitations and make it possible for me to participate in all kinds of activities. And while I am very grateful for all they do for me, I hope they also accommodate the limitations of other people they encounter each day.
Because every one has some kind of limitation, right?
And as I see it, working toward full inclusion of people with disabilities into society is pretty much like accomodating individual differences among people in general.
**Did you ever help someone in the grocery store by handing him a jar of pickles he couldn’t reach on a very high shelf?
**Were you ever asked to read someone a greeting card because she didn’t know English very well, or had forgotten to bring her reading glasses?
**Did you ever open a door, pick up dropped keys, or simply greet a stranger with a warm smile or sincere “How are you doing today?”
Then you have done your part for inclusion, and I thank you!
And to all those wonderful folks out there who strive to look past individual limitations of physical or social or mental or personality or fashion challenges; who try their best to reach out to the person inhabiting those limitations; who hires a qualified worker despite his wheelchair, or white cane; who seeks to bridge the chasm of misunderstanding and fear in an effort to bring others into the circle of celebration–
PS- and I’ll save a dance just for you.