Not All Disabilities are Visible

I recently saw the video “I am Brianna Couture” (with thanks to the Ruderman Family Foundation blog Zeh Lezeh for bringing it to my attention). It’s a video meant to open our eyes to the notion of invisible disabilities.

After watching, I got to thinking: This is a great, eye-opening opportunity to re-frame our perceptions of disability.

I want to ask you to engage in an exercise. Say (or think) the word “disability” and write the first five words that come to your mind (or draw what you think of, or say five words into a recording device – whatever works best for you). Were your words physical traits, intellectual descriptions, or social/emotional concepts? Do your words express limitations? Are their connotations positive or negative?

Now watch the video:

After you’ve watched the video, repeat the exercise. Did your words change? Is your thinking slightly different now that you have watched? I hope so. That was the point.

As usual, thinking about my experience with this video has me reflecting on inclusion in faith communities. I am reminded of a phrase that I have heard too often: “We don’t have any members of our congregation with disabilities, so we don’t really need to think about inclusion.”

Really? No members with disabilities? Watch the video again.

And if it’s true – if a congregation really doesn’t have a single member with a single disability – ask yourself: Why not? I would venture to guess that ignorance about, resistance to, or even an unwillingness to consider inclusive practices keeps members with disabilities away. Our attitudes are the greatest barrier to inclusive communities.

We don’t “do inclusion” for our members (although everyone benefits from truly inclusive practices). Rather, creating an inclusive community is about being ready. We should always be prepared to say, “Welcome! Of course we can accommodate your needs.”

Use this video. Show it to the board, a clergy member, an educator, lay leaders – whoever can be a strong partner in advocating. Start the conversation!

Originally published at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block

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Lisa Friedman

About Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman is the education co-director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. This position includes overseeing an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. Lisa also consults with congregations to develop inclusive practices for staff, clergy, and families through dialogue, interactive workshops and awareness training. She blogs at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block.

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