This past February, representatives of Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities traveled to Washington, DC to advocate on behalf of the Jewish disabled population and to educate legislators about its educational, social and other needs. The trip, coordinated by the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), was part of Yachad/NJCD’s NAIM (North American Inclusion Month) initiative.
“The primary purpose of the mission was to connect with key movers and shakers to help them understand what the needs of the disabled community are and why it is so vital to respond to them,” says Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, National Director of Yachad/NJCD.
The mission aimed at promoting the passage of various pressing bills that directly affect the special needs population’s quality of life. Prior to the trip, Congress had passed a resolution, introduced by Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-NY), designating February as North American Inclusion Month.
Some of the issues participants raised include increasing federal funding for special education, which hasn’t seen an increase in two decades; ensuring that optimal educational services are provided and encouraging businesses to employ individuals with special needs—a population suffering from an 80 percent unemployment rate—by offering tax incentives.
The Yachad/NJCD advocates, who came from around the country, consisted of Yachad staff, Yachad members and their family members as well as high school volunteers. After meeting NAIM participants, Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ) agreed to sign on to one of the mission’s targeted bills that would allow families with special needs children to set up a tax-free trust account to cover health care, and other vital life expenses.
“Congress was very receptive to the participants on this mission,” says Maury Litwack, Deputy Director, IPA. “Over one hundred members of Congress participated in NAIM through the Congressional resolution and individual meetings with YACHAD participants and staff. It is rare in Washington to make a positive introduction and get something done, but this mission excelled at both. We still have elected officials calling our office as a result of this mission.”