Last month, Congress passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act), which enables people with disabilities and their families to create tax-exempt savings accounts, which can build up to $100,000 in savings to help pay for long-term expenses without risking losing government benefits. This bipartisan legislative accomplishment was an important victory for the Reform Movement’s advocacy for disability rights, and in fact, for the whole disability rights community. The ABLE Act has been a major focus of the advocacy work of the Jewish Disability Network, a coalition of Jewish organizations advocating for disability rights and co-chairs by the Religious Action Center and the Jewish Federations of North America, and last year, Jews from across the country came together on Capitol Hill to lobby for passage of the ABLE Act on Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD). While the passage of the ABLE Act should be applauded, there is more that needs to be done.
Jewish tradition teaches us that all human beings are created in the divine image, b’tzelem Elohim (Genesis 1:27), teaching us that people of all abilities are deserving of the same opportunities and respect. The Reform Movement has a long history of working to remove barriers to the full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities, fulfilling the commandment in Leviticus 19:14 that “you shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” This week the Union for Reform Judaism and the Ruderman Family Foundation launched the URJ Ruderman Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center in order to further our work on disability inclusion.
When I first learned that I would be the legislative assistant (LA) working on Disability Rights at the RAC, I was very excited; disability rights was a social justice issue that had interested me for a long time but was an advocacy issue with which I had little experience . From my time attending Jewish day school, I knew that our religion emphasized the importance of equality for people with disabilities through the Leviticus verse that states “you shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind” (19:14). Ultimately, although the issue of disability rights is something I had thought deeply about before joining the RAC, I quickly realized that there was so much to learn on the subject after starting my work on disability rights as an LA.
Over the past couple of months, my colleagues and I have written about the barriers that prevent many Americans from voting. From voter ID laws to cuts in early voting, minorities are being disproportionately affected by changing voter laws. In addition, people experiencing homelessness, survivors of domestic violence, and transgender Americans face additional barriers to voting. On top of all of these groups, people with disabilities also face unique challenges to voting in America.
In the midst of the month of Elul, a period of reflection, repentance and forgiveness, it is important for us to not only reflect on our shortcomings as individuals in the past year but also on our shortcomings as a community. Too often our communities, whether religious or secular, fail to create truly inclusive environments for all individuals, including people with disabilities. As we approach the year 5775, which will mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we must reflect on our efforts to include people with disabilities and make a commitment to make 5775 a year of active inclusivity. Ultimately, as individuals, as communities and as global citizens, we have the power to create a more just and equitable world for people with disabilities.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) was written in order to empower persons with disabilities across the globe to be independent and productive citizens. Yet, despite the fact that CRPD is based on the ideals of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the United States still has not ratified the treaty. You can help make a difference and raise awareness of the importance of ratifying CRPD. Write why you support CRPD on a piece of paper and take a picture of yourself holding the sign. Then post the picture to Facebook or Twitter using the hashtags #CRPD and #ISupportCRPD. By sharing your support on Facebook and Twitter you can help spread the word about an important convention and increase the pressure on the Senate to act.
This Saturday, July 26th, will mark the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed in to law by President George H.W. Bush. President Bush ended his remarks that day by saying: “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” He was, of course, alluding to another wall that had only recently fallen—the Berlin Wall. I was born a few months after both those historical events took place and I am often struck that at twenty-three years old, my friends and I are the first group of Americans to grow up in an America where it is illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability. Read more…