Removing barriers to the on-ramp

Removing barriers to the on-ramp

By Harvey Goldberg

“Pushing the Boundaries,” a conference open to all, will address disability and inclusion in Ottawa’s Jewish community.

“Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion and the Ottawa Jewish Community,” the first-ever conference on disability and inclusion in our community will take place on Tuesday, April 2 and Wednesday, April 3 and is an opportunity for community members and leaders to collaborate and learn how to make Ottawa’s Jewish community more inclusive for everyone.

One of the conference planners, Rabbi Deborah Zuker, of the Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN), notes the fundamental Jewish belief in inclusion: “At Sinai we all stood before God. That means everyone, the old and the young, the poor and the rich, and most certainly people with disabilities. Everyday we must all work to ensure that everyone is included in all aspects of the Jewish community.”

The conference will begin with a keynote address by New York Times best-selling author Daniel Tammet, a British essayist, novelist, poet, translator and autistic savant on April 2, 7 pm, at Kehillat Beth Israel (KBI). Tammet’s 2006 memoir, Born on a Blue Day, is about his life with Asperger syndrome and savant syndrome.

The conference – which continues on April 3 from 9 am until 3:30 pm at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (SJCC) – will be facilitated by Shelly Christensen, a U.S.-based thought leader and author, who specializes in assisting faith communities become more inclusive. One of the founders of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, held each February, she is the author of the recently published book, From Longing to Belonging: A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community.


Shelly Christensen specializes in assisting faith communities become more inclusive. (


Also participating in the conference will be David Lepofsky, one of the pre-eminent leaders of the disability rights self-advocacy movement in Canada. Lepofsky, a retired lawyer who is blind, led the decades-long struggle to pass the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and continues to work tirelessly for its effective implementation.

Attorney David Lepofsky led the struggle to pass the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The “Pushing the Boundaries” conference is being jointly organized by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa; Jewish Family Services of Ottawa; Tamir; and the Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN) with financial support from Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA; Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building; as well as private donors.

Federation President and CEO Andrea Freedman sees the conference as an important on-ramp to the Federation’s vision of a Jewish Superhighway of meaningful experiences and Jewish journeys where Jewish life is vibrant and no one is left behind.

“Community members with disabilities often face challenges and barriers to being included in our community,” Freedman said. “Federation is looking forward to working with other partners and community members to find ways to overcome these challenges.”

Tickets are $18 for the opening event at KBI (desserts and refreshments will be served) and $36 for the conference events at the SJCC (a kosher lunch and refreshments will be served). Persons with lived experience of disability are especially encouraged to participate. Visit to register online.

Fee subsidies are available for those whose participation is prohibitive due to the cost of registration. Contact Madelaine Werier at for information on subsidies.

For more information on “Pushing the Boundaries: Disability, Inclusion and the Ottawa Jewish Community,” contact Federation Vice-President of Community Building Sarah Beutel at 613-798-4696, ext. 253, or