MLK, Judaism and Disability Inclusion

Celebrating of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has me thinking about two things.

First, this quote:
MLK, Judaism and Disability Inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

“Faith is taking the first step even if you don’t see the entire staircase.”

Sometimes the way to make inclusion a reality is to take a leap of faith. Yes, we want to make sure we have the right supports, the right “buy in”, the right amount of money, the right facilities, the right…everything. But the truth is, we will never have EVERYTHING right. That’s life. That’s what makes life interesting and wonderful and challenging. If we waited for the stars to align before we took any risks, we’d never move. And so it is with inclusion. Think about everything – but take the leap of faith.

Second, this image:

King, Eisendrath, Torah - Removing the Stumbling Block

Every time I see it I get the chills. Really. It just reminds me of how deeply proud I am of my rich Jewish heritage. Our Torah teaches a simple truth, “You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20). This image is proof. 

How are you honoring MLK's legacy? 

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Create a More Inclusive Classroom

I have written a number of practical “how-to’s” to help you create more inclusive classrooms and schools. Top Five Strategies for Your Inclusive Classroom and Ten Things to Know About Jewish Special Needs Education are terrific starting points.

Inclusion is belonging; Removing the Stumbling Block

However, there are two significant concepts at the core of creating inclusive learning environments that I would urge you to keep in mind:

First, accommodating isn’t the same as inclusion. Don’t get me wrong, making appropriate accommodations is an essential strategy in working with students who have unique learning needs. But there’s more to becoming truly inclusive. Inclusion is about belonging. It is about every student being fully integrated into the life of the classroom and the school. Making accommodations will be an integral part of the process, but it is not sufficient in and of itself. I share a great video to illustrate an activity that was beautifully reframed in order to be inclusive in A Powerful Example of Inclusion.

Second, inclusion and disability awareness are NOT the same thing. Teaching a lesson or leading a conversation about disabilities does not mean that you are inclusive. It means you have taught a lesson about disabilities. It can be important in is its own right and a valuable component of inclusivity, but quality awareness-raising is only one aspect of inclusive practice.

Where and how you begin is far less important than just getting started. Trial and error is necessary. It really is ok to figure it out along the way.

Some additional resources for you to consider:

10 Reasons for Inclusive SchoolsThe Inclusive Class – A wonderful website rich with tools and strategies for secular classrooms that can be easily adapted and used in faith-based schools. I urge you not to shy away from secular resources “just because” you teach in a Jewish school.

Think Inclusive – Another exceptional website rich with content to support you at any place along your inclusive journey.

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Inclusion Requires Authenticity

I think about authenticity a lot.

Inclusion requires authenticity; Removing the Stumbling Block

I’m fairly certain one significant reason is that I work with pre-teens and teens - and they will not hesitate to call you out for a lack of authenticity. I actually believe that this is why I have had such great successes in building relationships with teens – because I have proven my willingness to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

This holds true to inclusion. Authenticity is a key element to ensuring that a community’s inclusive efforts aren’t just words on a page, but rather an integral part of who they are and all they do.

When asked how it came to be that I would staff a URJ Kesher Birthright trip to Israel this Winter cycle, I readily share the two reasons:

What Special-Needs Families Wish Their Rabbis Knew

What Special-Needs Families Wish Their Rabbis Knew; Removing the Stumbling Block

Ever read an article that just sticks with you? One that you are thinking about days and maybe even weeks after you read it?

That’s what the article What Special-Needs Families Wish Their Pastors Knew has been for me. It immediately and deeply resonated. Of course, I swapped “rabbi” for “pastor”, but yeah, it might as well have been written for synagogues.

Not all synagogues. Just as you can’t drape this piece like a blanket across all churches, neither can I make the broad statement that it would apply to all synagogues.

But it certainly applies to many.
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