Quick! Raise your hand if you knew February was Black History month or if you’ve heard of a man named Martin Luther King. Plenty of hands are raised on that one. Most of us remember King was the king of dreamers when it came to dreams of America joining hands as an inclusive society. His most memorable idealization centered on speeding up “that day when all of God’s children – black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics – will be able to join hands.”
Now, quick! Raise your hands again if you knew that the OU was instrumental in passing a congressional resolution that expands recognition for February as NAIM (North American Inclusion Month): an initiative to heighten awareness and sensitivity for those who live with disabilities and promote their inclusion in the larger community.
There aren’t as many hands up this time and that’s a shame because we need more. King’s dream of joining hands only cut across lines of race and religion but failed to mention 20% of our population. Those 20% are the ones least likely to be included and the least likely to raise their voices or their hands in self advocacy. Currently, there are 1 in 5 Americans living with disabilities, and everyone knows someone who does. Special needs individuals cut across ALL lines of segregation: race, religion, socioeconomics and gender, but don’t be naive because 80% of those citizens are unemployed and 100% are still being excluded in fundamental aspects of living or basic rights that the rest of us take for granted.
If you think it’s not so, the OU wants to enlighten you and U.S. government officials regarding these issues. On February 24th, 50 delegates of the Orthodox Union, including Executive Managing Director Rabbi Steven Burg, Yachad National Director Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, and Yachad National Chairman Aaron Kinderlehrer, joined hands with a mission to Washington, D.C. and spent the day lobbying legislators on four critical resolutions currently under consideration:
H.R.1102- Reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act because all citizens can access free public education, but no such guarantee exists for funding the education of students with special needs.
H.R.1205- Authorizing the creation of ABLE accounts because citizens setting aside retirement funds enjoy tax benefits for doing so, but trusts created for a special needs family member have no such breaks and are subject to double taxation (on both income and estate).
H.R.1670- Authorizing the Community Choice Act because Medicaid recipients have no guaranteed coverage for community or home-based residential assistance. The average annual cost of a government facility or mental health care institution is well over $100,000 per resident, whereas the cost of in-home care or community based group homes can run as low as $40,000 and promotes the highest degree and quality of independent living.
H.R.4247- Authorizing the Prevention of Harmful Restraint and Seclusion Act because in August 2009 a special needs student committed suicide in a school room after teachers had locked him in seclusion for 7 hours. Advocacy officials claim such excessive restraint incidents are not isolated in the absence of rules governing the use of seclusion or restraints.
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (Maryland), who addressed Mission participants, was pleased to note that the Orthodox Union has been a leader in promoting inclusion as a non-sectarian issue which speaks to the heart and soul of our consciousness as a democratic society.
February is Black History month and it’s also NAIM (North American Inclusion Month). Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream was a pleasant one, but could use some expansion to include Americans with disabilities. After all, it’s a simple expansion and integration of our own motto both as Jews and as U.S. citizens: One G-d, with one name, and one nation under G-d, with liberty and justice for all regardless of abilities.
Now quick! Raise your hand if you believe that and let’s join hands with the OU because they also have a dream. It’s bigger, it’s better, it’s more inclusive, and it’s the most pleasant one of all. In fact, it’s NAIM.
The NAIM Mission was organized by the OU’s Institute for Political Action (IPA). IPA works to protect Jewish interests and freedoms by providing government officials with informative policy briefings and advocating legislative and regulatory initiatives. For more information you can contact the Institute for Public affairs at (212) 613-8123, e-mail email@example.com, or visit http://advocacy.ou.org/.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.