February marked Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) in Canada. JDAIM aims to build awareness and increase engagement in Canadian Jewish communities by identifying and breaking down barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from fully participating in community life. These barriers may be physical, organizational – structure and attitude, or political – public policy and funding models. Less concrete – but no less serious – are community culture and mindset.
I am very proud that our national system, in partnership with our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Jewish Federations across Canada, local agencies and residential organizations as well as Israeli partners, is invested in improving the lives of Canadians with disabilities.
On February 21, a national delegation of leaders from Vancouver, Calgary, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal gathered in Ottawa to present the Jewish community’s issues and perspective to federal ministers and parliamentarians.
We are changing our community’s narrative by building a deeper understanding of the abilities of this population and barriers that they face. This multi-faceted effort has wide reaching policy, programmatic and financial implications.
Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA (JFC-UIA) is actively engaged programmatically and philanthropically in promoting inclusion and awareness.
In 2016, Canada Israel Experience brought two groups of young adults with special needs on a Birthright Israel experience that was modified to meet the participants’ unique needs and capacities.
In Israel, within our partnership communities, JFC-UIA and the Federations are invested in facilities and programs that work with individuals with motor, developmental, physical and sensory challenges. Open to Israelis of all backgrounds and disabilities, programs address therapeutic, educational and social welfare needs. ‘Maarag’ increases economic independence through training and business development. The hydrotherapy pool in Mevoot Hermon, in Ottawa’s Partnership 2gether region, provides physical therapy to Israelis living in the north. Krembo Wings in Kiryat Shemona is a fully integrated program for youth with and without special needs. A special relaxation program for autistic children is supported in Bat Yam and a full continuum residential program is supported in Beer Sheva.
When someone in your family has a disability, it is a complicated journey for all members. It requires physical, emotional and financial resources often beyond available capacity. Often, community services are not organized in a user friendly way. In addition to navigating a compartmentalized and fragmented system, individuals with disabilities face serious economic, employment, housing, home care provision, transitional and jurisdictional challenges.
That said, families often react with incredible ingenuity, rallying together to create innovative and inclusive programs for their own children.
A community that takes a systemic approach towards embracing the disabled and their families will understand that an integrated ecosystem is required – from the basic requirements of shelter and food, to education, socialization, vocational training, healthcare and related therapies. The elimination of all barriers to participation requires a community that is open minded and prepared to invest in training and infrastructure; and a system that is built on strong partnerships between government, community and family.
Linda Kislowicz is president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA. JFC-UIA supports Canadian Jewish Federations and communities by increasing philanthropic capabilities, national and interna-tional influence, and connection to Israel. Visit www.jewishcanada.org for information.