Understanding Disabilities: OU Encourages Students to ‘Walk in Someone Elses’ Shoes’

03 Apr 2012


Since its inception last winter, more than 3,000 students across the United States have participated in “Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes” – workshops that build awareness and sensitivity toward peer and student challenges. It is a program of The National Association of Jewish Schools Serving Special Children (NAJSSSC).

NAJSSSC is a division of Yachad | Jewish Disabilities Integration/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), an agency of the Orthodox Union that focuses on promoting the Inclusion of individuals with physical and developmental disabilities within the broad Jewish community.

The sensitivity training workshops were created by Batya Jacob, Director of NAJSSSC, to meet the interests and needs of Jewish day schools. The program has been hosted in Atlanta; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; South Florida; and across New Jersey and Metropolitan New York. She noted that the program has additionally been used in Jewish summer camps and that she has recently been contacted to present the workshops to a public school district in New Jersey.

According to Mrs. Jacob, “Every child is entitled to a Jewish education alongside his or her peers. Each child learns differently and their individual needs deserve attention so that they can learn to their fullest potential. At the same time, we believe that being socially accepted is the key part of the positive development and growth of all students. This experience enables students from the broader population to return to class with a new understanding, sensitivity, and patience with their special needs peers. In turn, we hope that this will lead to greater social Inclusion of their special needs friends into their daily activities.”

Rhonda Weinraub, an educator at Bruriah High School for Girls, in Elizabeth NJ, noted, “I asked the students who else besides students taking Special Ed would benefit from the program and the almost unanimous response was everyone — children, adults, teachers, all ages! Several of the girls said that they had never experienced anything like this before; and that that they felt their relationships and interactions with people with disabilities would be very different. Having had this experience will improve their responses to individuals with differences.”

The workshops, which are facilitated by Yachad staff and local educators, are primarily geared for middle school and high school students. Groups of 60-80 students are divided into smaller groups (8-10 students per table) in order to perform hands-on activities demonstrating specific learning issues such as hearing loss; hand and walking impairments; dyslexia and reading disorders; autism; speech disorders; and ADD/ADHD. Activities may include spelling tests presented in “Deaf Speech;” looking through various materials to see how vision can be restricted; and performing various challenges in reading and writing while being exposed to distracting stimuli. Interactive discussions and reflections wrap-up each activity.

Simone Sobel, a mother in Atlanta whose daughter, Bracha, attends the Torah Day School, wrote, “My sixth grader informed me that today Mrs. Jacob from the Yachad organization visited her class and organized activities to demonstrate how individuals with different disabilities like autism, dyslexia, speech or motor problems experience the world. What an incredible experience for the students to be given the gift of developing sensitivity to students who may have these problems in their classrooms, to have an opportunity to ‘walk in their shoes.’”

All necessary materials are provided. Yachad staff also makes available an introductory package for students to bring home and follow-up ideas for schools to reinforce the experiences from the workshop.

To schedule the sensitivity training workshops at your school, or for further information, contact Batya Jacob at {encode=”mailto:batyaj@ou.org” title=”batyaj@ou.org”} or call (212) 613-8127.

Students of the Torah Day School in Atlanta participate in workshops:

Students were required to connect dots using mirrors to mimic dyslexia.

Students were given glasses with covered lenses to experience visual impairments.

Students mimic Usher’s Syndrome — a genetic condition in which the person is genetically deaf and has a gene for Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye condition that starts with night blindness, then tunnel vision, and deteriorates to the degree that the person may become blind.

Students experience physical challenges

OU | Enhancing Jewish Life