Awareness vs. Acceptance
The Chasidic rabbi Yehudi haKodesh taught, “Good intentions alone not followed by action are without value. It is the actions which make the intentions so profound.”
Acceptance is an action: In its statement officially recognizing the name change to April as Autistic Acceptance Month (vs. Autistic Awareness Month), the Autistic Self Advocacy Network writes, “autism acceptance is an active process that requires both a shift in thinking and in action.” Too often, we satisfy ourselves during these themed months with reading a single blog and certifying ourselves “aware.” Yet to be worthwhile, this raised consciousness must be followed by an action. In the case of the month of April, this action is actively accepting people with autism into our communities.
Yes, acceptance must be preceded by awareness. Indeed, this is what we learn from Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva’s oft-repeated debate:
“Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper story of Nithza’s house, in Lod, when this question was posed to them: Which is greater, study or action? Rabbi Tarfon answered, saying: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered, saying: Study is greater. All the rest agreed with Akiva that study is greater than action because it leads to action” (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 30b).
Yes, study should be followed by action, but action must always be preceded by study. Luckily for us in the case of autism advocacy, this knowledge is readily available on the Autism Acceptance Month website. The website is a treasure trove of resources, accessible to all levels of familiarity, ranging from the handy page “I’m new” to “I’m a parent” to “I’m an educator.”
In response to the Talmudic debate above, the American Jewish World Service poses the question that if action is the greatest, why must we study at all? Study guides us through action, not just to action. We take our Jewish values and constantly apply and re-apply them to changing circumstances. Today, national Jewish organizations gathered at the RAC for the quarterly meeting of the Jewish Disability Network, where we work together to further disability rights, informed by our common Jewish values.
Acceptance is equality: Allison Wohl, featured on the Autism Acceptance Month blog and Executive Director of the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination (CPSD), spoke to the Jewish Disability Network about the need for what she calls “a new social contract.” The current governmental support system for people with disabilities presumes incompetence and condemns adults with disabilities to a life of poverty. CSPD works to change this, “to empower citizens with disabilities to become self-sufficient, productive members of society through employment in jobs and environments that are typical in our society.”
One needed change that Allison highlighted this morning is the passage of the ABLE Act. Under current law, people with disabilities who have more than $2,000 in assets are ineligible for many essential government benefits like Medicaid. Families whose children will not go to college cannot save money tax-free for future expenses (as a savings fund for the college-bound would do), which could include costly caregivers, medical visits and housing. Adults with disabilities find it more expensive to work than to be unemployed, since they cannot save their earnings without forfeiting government health insurance and other benefits. The ABLE Act would encourage and assist individuals and families in saving private funds for the purpose of supporting individuals with disabilities to maintain health, independence, and quality of life.
Turn awareness into acceptance, and acceptance into an action. Write to your Members of Congress today, and urge them to cosponsor the ABLE Act. Turn Autism Acceptance Month into a month of action, a month of change. Because people with autism cannot be truly accepted until people with disabilities are accepted as equals in our communities.
Image from disability.gov