Tag: disability

The Disability Inclusion Hero Awards

Cross posted on Jews & Special Needs blog 
of the Jewish Journal

As the new calendar year begins, we are entertained by those Year in Review lists and Person of the Year awards, both inside and outside of the Jewish communities. Time magazine aptly chose the Pope Francis as its Person of the Year for his calling for a church of healing. T’ruah,The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, honors its T’ruah Rabbinic Human Rights Hero Award including (deservingly) LA’s Rabbi Dara Frimmer (Temple Isaiah). Perhaps most uniquely, Jewrotica, the self-declared “hub for Jewish sexual expression,” listed the Sexiest Rabbis of 2013, in three categories: The Smarts, Getting Some (social) Action, and Bad Ass/Sex Appeal. (Blogger’s Confession: To ensure complete objectivity for this blogpost, I disallowed any consideration of myself for the Jewrotica lists.)

We can argue whether these lists or others (like Newsweek’s cynical Top Rabbi’s lists) are unnecessary and inappropriate. Ranking rabbis inserts the very same vapid values of power, prestige and self-importance that the rabbinic profession and religious pursuits strive to ameliorate.
Still, this time of year led me to wonder whether the Jewish community might create lists to shine light into important contributions to the inclusion world. Inclusion Awards might honor those who strive to include people with disabilities into our community. Too many Jewish institutions and organizations have dragged their feet either because of ignorance, tightfistedness or self-focus. Too many people with special needs and their families languish on the outskirts of the Jewish community, unable to break in because the randomness of life’s lottery that gave them or their child certain challenges that many others do not have to face. Jewish communities that embrace them deserve recognition and investment.
We could create as the highest honor, a special category of award, perhaps called The Inclusion Hero, which would be awarded to parents and grandparents who refocus their lives to embrace the challenge of a child with special needs. (Simultaneously, we might create an Exceptionally-Abled Person Honor to be awarded to Jews with special needs, who embrace their challenges and work extra hard to accomplish what others can do almost automatically. More on that in another Jews and Special Needs post.)
Parent and grandparents balance worry and wonder, frustration and far-sightedness, inspiration and incredible inner strength – all in the pursuit of giving their loved one the best chance possible. They may have argued with family members who did not believe that this “kid can do it.” They probably have battled repeatedly with school systems required by law to assist children with special needs but which in practice often stonewall, playing cynical games with children’s lives. They have sacrificed rejuvenating social time with spouses or partners, their other children and longtime friends because the needs of this one child cannot be ignored or postponed. Yet, when life dealt them a set of cards different than what they were expecting, they took it in stride – perhaps after some anguish and tears – and played the best way they knew how. Yes, they are the “rock stars” of our world!
On second thought, perhaps this is not really a good idea. Because the very process of choosing which individual or family deserves The Inclusion Hero honor creates a hierarchy of giving and sacrifice that demeans the loving work that every such parent or grandparent does.
Instead, let’s repurpose existing awards. All parents of people with special needs deserve to be named Person of the Year because they transform the lives of their loved ones. They all deserve to be T’ruah’s Human Rights Hero for ensuring the human rights of their special needs child are not trampled. And because caring for loved ones makes people really sexy – good looks may fade, but kindness endures – they each should be applauded by Jewrotica for their smarts, social activism, and Bad Ass/Sex Appeal.
Next time you read a Top 10 list honoring special people, think instead about the people who care for their children of any age with special needs. Then call or email them, praising them as your Inclusion Heroes. They undoubtedly deserve it and most assuredly will appreciate the recognition.

Commitment to Children with Disabilities Leads to Award-Winning Diane Simon Smith

We schepp nachas (are filled with pride) as we celebrate Congregation Or Ami’s congregant Diane Simon Smith, for her long-term ongoing commitment to families with children with disabilities. Diane has been an integral part of Or Ami’s foundational commitment to inclusivicity, an outlook that has led us to mainstream disabled children in our religious learning programs, in our LoMPTY youth group and to partner with Chaverim, a program for developmentally disabled adults.

The IDEA Infant and Toddler Coordinators Association (ITCA) announces the winner of the 2012 ITCA Regional Parent Leadership Award as Diane Simon Smith from the State of California:

The IDEA Infant and Toddler Association (ITCA) Parent Leadership Awards are given annually to acknowledge outstanding state parent leadership on behalf of the Part C program for infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities and their families. Parents may be nominated on the basis of significant contributions, in either a volunteer or paid capacity, during a specific period of time, or for exceptional efforts over a period of several years. These efforts may range from family support efforts, recruiting and/or training families, serving on committees, working on legislative initiatives etc. 

When her son Andrew was born in 1985, 14 weeks premature, severely disable with cerebral palsy and overcoming tremendous odds to live, Diane Simon Smith promised she would do for him in the world what he could not do for himself. Her son Matthew was born three years later with Fragile X syndrome. Diane immersed herself in the special needs world to advocate not only for her own sons but for others as well. In 1991 she returned to school shifting her focus to marriage and family therapy with a focus on supporting children with disabilities and their families in group settings and individual counseling. Diane developed a specialized private practice working with families of children with disabilities. For the past fourteen years she has run support groups for parents and sibling workshops and has developed two retreats: Healing the Mother’s Heart and The Journey. Diane is an author and presenter about marital relationships, grief and loss, sibling issues and strategies for thriving as they relate to childhood disability. 

A quote from one of the support letters that were received speaks to the outstanding qualities that this award represents: 

“I met Diane several years ago at a retreat she held in Santa Barbara. The retreat was designed to gather women together of all ages, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. The one common thread we shared was that we all had children with special needs. By sharing with this unique group of women for 36 hours, Diane gave us permission to share our most
intimate fears and hopes. Her guidance was outstanding, professional and given from a place of true love and empathy. We were allowed to laugh, cry, vent and share our experiences in a completely safe and healthy environment.”

Mazel tov, Diane, your simcha (joyous moment) is our nachas (pride).