The Secret Key to Inclusion is Transparency

The Secret Key to Inclusion is Transparency; Removing the Stumbling Block

The new school year is upon us. And soon, the new Jewish year will be upon us, as well. The start of a new year can be the most ideal time to make sure that your community and your classrooms are as inclusive as they can be.

Here is a piece that I think is significant: Even if you cannot make every single change that you hope to make at once, being transparent about your efforts and helping your community know that inclusion is something you value will go a tremendous way.

All too often communities feel that they can’t use the language of inclusion if they aren’t “inclusive enough” (let’s not talk now about those who call themselves inclusive but really aren’t…that’s another challenge for another day).

It is ABSOLUTELY acceptable to say that you are making efforts to be as inclusive as possible as you work to make the necessary changes and shape the culture of your community. The key here is transparency.

Move From Intention to Action

In Judaism, intention (kavanah) is an essential component of meaningful action. Kavanah comes from the Hebrew root meaning to direct, intend, or focus. Living a meaningful Jewish life involves combining our actions with the intention we bring to those actions.
Removing the Stumbling Block intention action disability inclusionRabbi Yaakov Yitzhak of Pshi’scha, taught, “Good intentions alone, if not accompanied by action, are without value, as it is the action which makes the intentions so profound.” 

It is essential to back up our words with action to fully include individuals with disabilities. Each of us must move from intention to action.  

Some additional thoughts to get you started:

For your congregation - Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive

For your classroom - Teaching the Difference Between Fairness and Equality

For your family - Teach Your Children to be Accepting of Disabilities

For you -  Inclusion is NOT Social Action

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#BlogElul; Removing the Stumbling Block
This post is a part of #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed.


The Disability Slur That Stopped Me in My Tracks

The Disability Slur That Stopped Me in My Tracks; Removing the Stumbling Block

I haven’t written in a while. I think the main reason is that with the slower days of summer I really appreciate the change of pace and relish the opportunity to get outside, exercise more, spend time with my kids, and I especially love having the time to read more. 

I read a mix of things in the summer. I tackle a few professional books, I read some young adult fiction, often my own kids’ summer reading assignments along with a few disability inclusion themed selections, and I read some good ole’ beach reads. I tend to gravitate toward light mysteries and popular fiction. 
So I picked up a freebie called “Sweets and a Stabbing” by Harper Lin and expected to finish it in a day or two at most. Except that I was barely into chapter one when I stumbled into this:

“Mr. O'Malley would never have confessed his infidelity at Gatto's Restaurant, causing the scene of Amelia blubbering and stammering away like someone suffering with Tourette syndrome.”

It stopped me in my tracks. 

Labels in Disability Inclusion - Are They Good or Bad?

I created and regularly add to a list of books for children and teens around disability inclusion. I invite you to discover some new books to add to your own lists. And, of course, if you have suggestions of books that I can add, please share them here in the comments.

For more about some of the books I find most notable read: Books That Teach Kids and Teens About Disabilities.

This post was sparked by my recent read of counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  
"Twelve-year-old Willow Chase lived with her adoptive parents in Bakersfield, California. There in the midst of the high desert, she grew a garden in her backyard, her sanctuary. She was excited about starting a new school, hoping this time she might fit in, might find a friend. Willow had been identified in preschool as highly gifted, most of the time causing confusion and feelings of ineptness in her teachers. Now at her new school she is accused of cheating because no one has ever finished the state proficiency test in just 17 minutes, let alone gotten a perfect score. Her reward is behavioral counseling with Dell Duke, an ineffectual counselor with organizational and social issues of his own. She does make a friend when Mai Nguyen brings her brother, Quang-ha, to his appointment, and their lives begin to intertwine when Willow's parents are killed in an auto accident."
There is a powerful excerpt that has stuck with me:
"I was taken to see an educational consultant that autumn and the woman did an evaluation. She sent my parents a letter.

I read it.

It said I was "highly gifted."

Are people "Lowly gifted"?

Or "medium gifted"?

Or just "gifted"? It's possible that all labels are curses. Unless they are on cleaning products.

Because in my opinion, it's not really a great idea to see people as one thing.

Every person has lots of ingredients to make them into what is always a one-of-a-kind creation.

We are all imperfect genetic stews."

Why is it that we rely on labels so much? 

I find myself wondering if there is an alternative. I don't think that there is. And are labels really all bad? I believe that there are also aspects of a label, classification or diagnosis that can be helpful - such as enabling one to receive specific accommodations, ensuring that one receives appropriate medical care, or even just in helping to understand one's strengths and challenges.

I think the greater issue is that "it's not really a great idea to see people as one thing." When we reduce someone to ONLY a label, when we can't see past a classification to appreciate one's gifts, when we pigeon-hole people into boxes based on those labels - this is when we tread on dangerous ground. This is what we need to seek to avoid and undo.

What do you think? Are labels completely problematic, or is there some positive value? 

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Debunking 4 Common Myths About Disability Inclusion

Debunking Myths in Disability Inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

If you look, you will find the word “inclusion” in the dictionary. But there is no universal definition of inclusion as it applies to educational settings.

To include is to make something fit as part of a whole, but real inclusion is so much more. It is working to ensure a true sense of belonging, and when our focus is on education, inclusion is ensuring that ALL students have equal access to curriculum and meaningful learning experiences.

Nevertheless, there is no blueprint for how to make this happen on a practical level in schools. As a result, each state, district, school, and even teacher may have a slightly different understanding of what an inclusive classroom is, let alone how to create one in practice.

There are so many myths and misconceptions that have become barriers to the widespread implementation of inclusive education. Below are four of the most common. 

Reforming Professional Development to Meet the Goals of Inclusion

We need everyone to advocate for inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

In secular education there is a cry for reform in the methodology of professional development for educators. Teachers are increasingly expected to reach their learners in authentic and meaningful ways through such practices as project-based learning and innovative uses of technology. Despite this, most professional development continues to be offered in a "one and done" fashion, with someone lecturing on a given topic and no follow-up offered. Tom Murray, in an article called professional-development reform: 8 steps to make it happen illustrates this point by writing, “Every year, school districts around the country waste a tremendous amount of time and money on ineffective professional development. The traditional model of “sit and get,” where a one-size-fits-all approach is utilized, yields abhorrent results…Professional development must undergo radical reform, from a model that’s outdated and ineffective to one that’s differentiated, meaningful and engaging.”  Differentiated, meaningful and engaging; that’s exactly the kind of education we want for our children, right? So why wouldn’t we want the same for those facilitating that education?

6 Summer Tips for Parents of Children with Disabilities

6 Summer Tips for Parents of Children with Disabilities; Removing the Stumbling Block

Our thoughts are beginning to turn from desks to lounge chairs, from carpools to lazy afternoons by the pool, and from early-morning alarms to long evenings spent making s’mores and catching fireflies.

We might assume that all families look forward to summer vacation, but sometimes it’s anxiety and not joy that accompanies the dismissal bell on that last day of school. Parents of children with a variety of disabilities and learning issues, for example, often notice that their kids tend to thrive on the structure and routine the academic year provides; the prospect of long stretches of unscheduled time can be overwhelming.

Acceptance: The True Measure of Inclusion

The gift of acceptance; Removing the Stumbling Block


The action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.

It's what we all want, isn't it? 

No One is Perfect

One of the things I find most compelling about Judaism is the way in which we read Torah. Not just the pomp & circumstance of ritual surrounding it, although that is definitely awesome; but rather, the fact that we read the same words over and over, year in and year out. Each and every time we read a portion we can learn something new, glean some insight that we didn't catch before. 

We are different each and every time we encounter Torah; Removing the Stumbling Block

Why, you might wonder, could that be if the words never change? It is because we change. We are different each and every time we encounter Torah, and we bring our unique selves and our personal perspectives to the stories and messages in our ancient text. When successful, we merge the two to find wisdom and guidance for our modern lives.

Nevertheless, there are those portions that some try to avoid. They're the ones our kids hope they won’t draw for their b'nei mitzvah. Yes, of course, we know there is no “bad” parsha. But nonetheless, when we reach tazria-m’tzora, we find a parsha that speaks about ritual uncleanliness, skin disease and other such maladies. Woo hoo!

Attention Deficits and Gender - Continuing to Make Sense of Behavior

ADD Checklist for Girls; Removing the Stumbling Block


When I first came across this image illustrating attention deficit symptoms in girls, I immediately found myself thinking more about stereotypes than disabilities. It’s what led me to write: Making Sense of Behavior: Girls, Boys, Attention Deficits and Stereotypes. And yet, I still find myself far more concerned with the way that adults tolerate (or don’t tolerate!) such behaviors than about the differences themselves.




So when I discovered the counterpart to the original image, I went a little deeper.


Be the Change, Be Inclusive

Serenity Prayer - Removing the Stumbling Block

So much in our world is out of our control.

When we discuss the inclusion of individuals with disabilities, there are two directions we might go. One would be to focus on organizational change; the other, personal change. Both have value, both have their place.

Too often, organizations become overwhelmed by the scope of change, forgetting that it is a process. The task may seem insurmountable and so they won’t start, they won’t try. But you just have to start somewhere. 

And we must work hard to ensure that those of us acting as organizational change agents do the hard work of personal reflection. There is no room for hypocrisy. You can’t advocate for disability inclusion and then exclude a child with a disability from your daughter’s birthday party. You can’t be an advocate for inclusion and then rationalize parking in a handicapped spot.
Ghandi teaches us to “be the change we want to see in the world.” You can do it. You can practice what you preach. You must be inclusive as you work with those around you to do the same.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr 

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A Special College Acceptance

Have you seen this video?

It's had over a million hits and is being touted all over the internet as “heart-warming.”

Prom Inclusion - Is It Really Happening? How Often?

Prom inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

Prom season. Happens every year. And every year we see "feel good" stories like this. These stories make the rounds of the Internet and get shared by many, including respected disability inclusion advocates. They are sweet stories about friends going to the prom together. And everyone loves a feel good story, right? But these actually frustrate the heck out of me. Why? Because it's not news, or at least it shouldn't be. 

You see, a boy made a promise to a friend in fourth grade to take her to prom. And he followed it through. That should actually be the story, but it's not, at least it’s not the whole story: "It's just another boy-meets-girl story, right? Hang on: There's more to it than that. Mary has Down syndrome, and Ben is the quarterback of his high school's football team." So what? This should be all about a sweet promise made by a fourth grade boy, but this story's "hook" is that the young friend who was asked to prom has Down Syndrome and the boy is now the captain of the football team. 

What's the message here? That football players don't date people with Down Syndrome? Ugh. 

Sometimes Inclusion is Just About Listening

Sometimes inclusion is just about listening; Removing the Stumbling Block

There’s a young boy in our school who has been struggling this year. He likes coming to school and gets along with the other children, but he has a very tough time settling down, focusing, and he speaks inappropriately to the teacher, often demonstrating a great deal of disrespect.

Mom and I speak a lot. This is the younger of her two boys, and she has already gone through the process of having her older son diagnosed and supported in school. So this isn’t new for her and she is very open and willing to discuss the challenges. She is both sympathetic and supportive, recognizing that the teacher is doing her best to support her son.

The Power of Yet to Advance Inclusion

If you have done any reading or learning in the area of mindset, you know that the word “yet” can be a powerful game changer. It can help move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. 
The Power of Yet to Advance Inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block
The concept is simple:

Help students change from saying and thinking “I can’t” to believing “I can’t yet.”

Shift them from “I don’t get it” to “I don’t get it yet.”

Push them from “I don’t know” to “I don’t know yet.”

And encourage them to abandon “This doesn’t work” for “This doesn’t work yet.”

How Do We Widen the Net of Inclusion?

How do we widen the net of inclusion? Removing the Stumbling Block

I had an interesting exchange with the social media/communications manager of an organization almost solely dedicated to the advancement of inclusion for individuals with disabilities in Jewish life.  He was pulling together a “best of” article to highlight posts from Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. (Of course I was more than pleased to share a couple of my own). I commented that I was pleased to see that there so many articles written. His reply, “Yes, but they always seem to come from the same people and the same sources. How do we widen the net?”

Don't Use Inclusion as an Excuse for Bad Behavior

One of the things I do as a disability inclusion consultant is coach organizations and their staff as they work to become more inclusive. One of the most significant ways to accomplish this is to reframe both the way we think about certain situations and the language we use when talking about those situations.
Inclusion Is Not an Excuse for Bad Behavior; Removing the Stumbling Block

Here’s a perfect example:

An Inclusion Coordinator recently asked me the following question, “How do you explain to a parent that their kid was hit, bit, touched by a kid with a disability and explain why we let them [the child with a disability] attend camp? Also, do we explain to parents, before camp starts, that we are an inclusion camp (says this on our brochure) and behaviors may occur? Specifically we have kids with shadows who are included and as great and trained as those shadows are, there is the unexpected behavior.”

How Will You Move Inclusion Forward?

Faith is taking the first step, MLK; Removing the Stumbling Block

We have reached the end of another Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. 

I always find myself thinking that true inclusion is the work of every day, not the work of one month. Opening the doors to ALL is not something we do once in a while. It must be the very fabric of who we are every day.

Max and Wayne: Reflections of Shabbat

With commitment, anything is possible; Removing the Stumbling Block

I was recently reminded of the value of sharing stories to help inspire and encourage others to take steps toward living their inclusive values. Each of us is a work in progress and I appreciate opportunities to reflect on my own growth as an inclusive educator. So it is with fondness that I return to this story of a teen retreat. 

In my role as a Jewish educator, I take many students on weekend retreats. Such experiences are a wonderful opportunity for teens to live and learn together as we celebrate Shabbat, socialize, talk and play. At retreats, teens build relationships with peers while exploring their Jewish identities, and such experiences expand exponentially on what we accomplish within the walls of our synagogue. Living together in Jewish time and sharing the joy of Shabbat in a unique setting is an amazing springboard from which we can launch our kids into so many other significant opportunities.

Living Up to My Inclusive Values

Birthright; Removing the Stumbling Block

I’ve had more than a month to reflect. 

I've recovered from the jet lag and gotten rid of that awful sinus infection. 

I’ve posted my pictures and thoroughly enjoyed everyone else’s. 

And yet, it’s taken me more than a month to write this post. Mostly because I have something challenging to write, and I don’t always know how to share the difficult stuff.

Need to catch up?

A Reminder of What is Possible - “No Limits” on the Jewish Disability Community

When you write a blog, there are some posts that get lost in the mix over time. It is hard work to continually bring each one back to the front. But there are some posts which are just too important to let fall by the wayside. This is one such post.
Reminder of what is possible; Removing the Stumbling Block
This Winter I lead my first Birthright trip. I say first, because I have every intention of leading another! I mentioned my motivations here and was not at all shy about sharing that I had the "ulterior motive" of learning how we (the Reform Movement and Kesher Birthright) might offer accessible and inclusive trips. With first-hand knowledge and experience behind me, I can say with certainly that this will be no easy task. BUT IT IS NECESSARY. It is important.

And that is why this post has not lost its relevance. It is a reminder of what is possible and it inspires me to keep the goals of inclusion close every day.

A Word of Caution Before Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month

Inclusion is a philosophy; Removing the Stumbling Block

There’s a buzz in the Jewish Disability World. Can you feel it? A few weeks from now will mark the beginning of yet another Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month; affectionately known by those who love acronyms as JDAIM. It can be a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness while highlighting the many great resources and opportunities that already exist within our communities. Personally, I always hope that it will lead to the opening of new doors that were once closed.

Disabilities vs. Special Needs - It's Time to Use the Words We Truly Mean

Disabilities vs. special needs, using the words we truly mean; Removing the Stumbling Block

I have wondered aloud (and in writing) about the difference between using the word disability and the phrase special needs.

While I prefer the term disability as I think it is clear, understandable and not in any way derogatory, I have been approached by parents of students in my school who have asked me to use the language of special needs because they find it gentler.

But here’s the thing: Don’t we all have needs? And aren’t we all special in some way? 

Embracing Good Enough

We can be our own worst enemies. 

Embracing good enough; Removing the Stumbling Block

Too many of us push ourselves to do more and more, never quite slowing down to appreciate what we have accomplished. And we are our own harshest critics when we haven’t reached the impossibly high standards we set for ourselves. 

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.

Brookes Publishing - "What we believe at Brookes Publishing is simple: “All people deserve to reach their potential.” Each day, we work hard to help unlock that potential. We strive to be recognized as the leading and most trusted publisher in the fields we help advance, partnering with top experts to deliver relevant, high-quality, research-backed content in optimal form and price for our customers."

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