North American Inclusion Month (NAIM) returns this February with expanded programming to develop awareness and sensitivity of what it means for those who live with disabilities, and how to Include them within the larger Jewish community. The program has been recognized by the United States House of Representatives for the past four years.
NAIM is an initiative of Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), the Orthodox Union’s agency dedicated to enhancing the opportunities of individuals with disabilities, promoting Inclusion and independence through various integrated activities and ensuring their participation in the full mainstream of Jewish life.
Yachad/NJCD has two main programmatic divisions: Yachad, for children and adults with developmental disabilities; and Our Way, for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, National Director of Yachad/NJCD, originated the idea for NAIM, and has overseen the program content. Dr. Lichtman stated, “NAIM has stretched the reach of Yachad/NJCD beyond the 55 chapters we have across the United States and Canada. Communities that previously had no contact with us have been sensitized to the need to actively welcome and Include individuals with disabilities in the community. In other communities, like Chicago and South Florida, where we have thriving active Yachad chapters, NAIM has allowed us to deepen the community understanding of disabilities, simultaneously broadening the chapters through outreach.”
He noted, “This year we have added an additional focus -- urging local synagogues and community organizations to create Inclusion committees to individually determine how best to be more Inclusive, and communicate that ‘everyone belongs!’”
Working with communities across North America, NJCD is planning a whole new series of events for February 2013. Team Yachad, 182 runners strong of all backgrounds and abilities, will kick off the excitement of NAIM, participating in the Miami ING Marathon and Half-Marathon on Sunday, January 27 to raise funds and awareness of Yachad’s work. The month will culminate with a High School Leadership Shabbaton focusing on advocacy training and lobbying, followed by a mission to Washington, D.C. with Yachad members.
More than 50 communities have signed up to coordinate programming in participation with NAIM, with others joining daily. Events range from Shabbatons; sensitivity training workshops; PowerPoint presentations of Megillat Esther for Purim (this year on Sunday, February 24); communal carnivals; learning programs; film festivals; Super Bowl parties; melava malkas; social events; an Inclusive Job Fair; and more.
The official NAIM website, which will list events as they are added, can be found at www.naim4inclusion.org. In addition to listing all participating NAIM events, the website provides easy access for program ideas and resources provided by Yachad.
“NAIM is not the only time of year to think about Inclusive programming, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to reach out to new institutions to get them thinking of steps they can proactively take to welcome all members of their communities,” noted NAIM Coordinators Batya Jacob and Ahuva Stern.
Participating communities include: Baltimore; Berkeley, CA; Boston; Brooklyn; Chicago; Deal, NJ; Denver; Englewood, NJ; Fairlawn, NJ; Harrisburg, PA; Hewlett, NY; Hillcrest, NY; Houston; Livingston, NJ; Los Angeles, CA; New York; Miami Beach; Omaha; Paramus, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Piscataway, NJ; Princeton Junction, NJ; River Edge, NJ; Riverdale, NY; Rochester, NY; Silver Spring, MD; Skokie, IL; Staten Island, NY; St. Louis; Teaneck, NJ; Toronto; Washington, D.C.; West Orange, NJ; West Rogers Park, IL; and Yardley, PA.
This year, NAIM coordinators turned to synagogues across North America to inquire and further encourage the addition of Inclusive aspects of life for all congregants; and to create a database of Inclusive Synagogues across the country and what they offer. The survey, found at http://surveymonkey.com/s/NAIM, overviews details of attitudes and practices; the worship area; parking and building entrances; and general accommodations for full participation within the congregation. Synagogues which meet criteria in these areas will be identified as a “Certified Inclusive Synagogue” and awarded with a certificate to publicize this status and given a logo to promote on synagogue materials. Plans are underway to expand the certification to communal institutions as well.
One of Yachad’s most popular programs for NAIM geared for both students and educators to meet the interests and needs of Jewish schools, youth groups, and community programs, is the training workshop “Sensitizing your Students to the Learning Challenges of Their Peers.” The workshop was developed by The International Jewish Resource Center for Inclusion and Special Education, a division of Yachad.
According to Batya Jacob, Director of The International Jewish Resource Center for Inclusion and Special Education, “Since the sensitivity training was introduced in 2011, more than 5,000 students have participated in the workshop. We expect another thousand to participate this year. Students rotate between various stations and experiences through hands-on activities to demonstrate different types of learning challenges including writing challenges, dyslexia and reading, challenges on the autism spectrum, speech deficits, and fine and gross motor challenges. We have adapted the student workshop so that it can be utilized to educate teachers, with a more intensive emphasis on modifying curriculum, teacher style, and testing.”
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