Thursday, February 25, 2016

Israeli autism unit in army helps individuals develop,7340,L-4768429,00.html

When I posted a simmilar article this was the point that stood out to me that disabled people are being helped to develop through this program.  That will save so many people time and money helping these people out

Pvt. E never thought he'd join the army. As someone on the autism spectrum, he struggled with certain social situations and would get easily distracted. Now, at 19, he is serving in a sensitive intelligence unit in the Israeli military, working in software quality assurance and defying what he and many of those around him thought he could accomplish.

Israel has for decades exempted people on the spectrum from joining the military, a compulsory duty for most Israeli Jews. But in recent years it is increasingly enlisting them, harnessing their special capabilities for certain meticulous tasks and including them in an Israeli rite of passage that can boost their independence and open professional doors.

"It gives me a chance. It gives me education, on-the-job education," said Pvt. E, whose name could not be published and whose face could not be photographed because he serves in a classified intelligence unit. "It's a beginning. It's a very solid beginning."

The IDF has developed into a more inclusive military. (Archive photo: IDF Spokesperson)
The IDF has developed into a more inclusive military. (Archive photo: IDF Spokesperson)

Pvt. E. is part of a program called Roim Rachok, or "seeing into the distance," which provides training and assistance to Israelis on the autism spectrum who wish to enlist in the military. The program's founders saw the inclusion of people on the spectrum as a way to help usher them into a self-sufficient life once they are discharged.

Until recently, people on the spectrum were largely sidelined from the military, allowed to volunteer but without a proper framework to ease them into the challenges of military life. Roim Rachok, and at least one other program that has sprouted up, is doing just that.

The Israeli military serves as a great equalizer where youth from all walks intersect and those who do not enlist can find themselves at a handicap once they hit the job market. One's military career can often be a key determinant for employers and soldiers who served in intelligence units often land coveted jobs in Israel's booming tech sector.

People on the spectrum are dealt another challenge once they reach 21, the age when state-funded programs and assistance are mostly cut off, leaving them to fend for themselves or depend on their parents for support. Roim Rachok hopes to provide its graduates with a softer landing through inclusion in the military.

"Many sit at their parents' home and don't do anything. That is the painful reality," said Tal Vardi, a retired security official who is co-founder of the program. "This program gives every adult on the spectrum the opportunity to realize his full potential. And the moment we give them opportunity it puts them and us as a society in a different place."

Dozens of people on the spectrum have participated in the program since 2013. They undergo a three-month training session at the Ono Academic College outside Tel Aviv that tests their skills and determines whether they could handle the military's rigid nature. They then serve in a civilian capacity in a military unit for another three months before they officially enlist.

The program seizes on the participants' perceptive capabilities and their knack for precision or repetition and places them in the military's most elite and sensitive intelligence units, where they pour over satellite imagery or, like Pvt. E., serve in quality assurance roles, verifying that the software the military develops is flawless. The program is expanding to address people with skills other than heightened perception, training soldiers for roles in combat support as well.

Some autistic soldiers serve in highly sensitive IDF intelligence units. (Archive photo: IDF Spokesperson)
Some autistic soldiers serve in highly sensitive IDF intelligence units. (Archive photo: IDF Spokesperson)

Once in the army, the soldiers are accompanied by an occupational therapist and a psychologist, lending support both to the people on the spectrum and their commanders and colleagues who may need guidance in their relationship with the soldiers.

Unlike typical recruits, who serve close to three years, these soldiers have a basic, voluntary, service of one year. But they are allowed to extend their service and volunteer for an additional two years if they choose. Roim Rachok also provides guidance once they leave the military.

Autism is a developmental disorder that can involve language and social impairments, affecting people to varying degrees. Many of the participants in Roim Rachom are considered "high functioning," meaning they have above-average intelligence but may have difficulties with social interaction and communication.

Not all soldiers on the spectrum qualify for the program and of those who do, not all have gone on to serve in the military, Vardi said. He said that much of the soldiers' success depends on how tolerant and accepting the people they work with can be, which is why support staff are deployed to help.

"Often the operational difficulty brings with it some sort of emotional difficulty," said Capt. Y., who commands six soldiers who are on the spectrum. "There may be a soldier who really struggles with the work and he isn't succeeding and you need to know how to deal with it."

In the small office in downtown Tel Aviv where Pvt. E. and his fellow soldiers are based, they toil away on computers beneath pulled blinds, shielding their classified work from prying eyes outside. A corkboard spelling out the day's to-do list hangs on the wall beside a whiteboard, where the soldiers draw up mathematical equations during their spare time.

"It's revolutionary," said Pvt. Y., a soldier who also works in quality assurance, of his military service. "It proves that even though others say we cannot, we can."

Jewish week from awareness to inclusion

For the first time ever, the White House is hosting an event to mark February as Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. The speakers include a rabbinical student with autism, and this week’s program draws advocates for American Jews with disabilities — an estimated 20 percent of our community — and leaders and representatives from a variety of Jewish organizations and foundations.
This high-profile event is indicative of the real progress made in the last few years in drawing attention to the need for greater inclusion in our synagogues, JCCs, camps and other Jewish settings. But advocates assert that we still have a long way to go. Awareness of the issue is increasing, they say, but inclusion too often translates into lip service rather than real change.
In practice, Jewish institutions have become more sensitive to the need for accommodating those with disabilities. But that often means holding separate programs for them. Full inclusion means offering such programs as an option, but also adapting a holistic approach, welcoming people with disabilities to any and all services and events offered in our community.
RespectAbility, a new national nonprofit working to empower people with disabilities, is working on a program with UJA-Federation of New York to improve synagogue life for those with disabilities. In so doing, it no doubt will increase sensitivity within the congregations. Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO of RespectAbility (and founder and former president of The Israel Project), notes that where synagogues once interpreted inclusion to mean separate services on the High Holy Days for those with disabilities, some rabbis and lay leaders now appreciate that inclusion means opening all services and programs to everyone. “It’s an education process to understand that inclusive means inclusive,” Laszlo Mizrahi said.
Six New York synagogues are well into the program sponsored by UJA-Federation and the Haas Foundation that allows congregants to identify and utilize best practices, which can be shared widely. They are Union Temple, Temple Beth Emeth and Park Slope Jewish Center in Brooklyn, Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan, CSAIR (Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale) and Westchester Reform Temple. Each of congregations deserves credit for leading the community to a more enlightened future.
Jewish Foundation for Camp is given high marks for inclusion, helping parents identify the right overnight camp to meet their child’s needs. Day schools are seen as making slow progress in accommodating students with disabilities.
Much of the credit for heightening awareness and addressing the needs of Jews with disabilities goes to the Ruderman Family Foundation, based in Israel and Boston, which has made advocacy for people with disabilities a priority in recent years. The Jewish Week is proud to note that its “The New Normal” section, dedicated to issues impacting the disability community and edited by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, is the most-read blog on our website.
It’s clear that there is an ongoing need for education, discussion and debate on how best to engage organically Jews with disabilities within our community. Progress often is incremental, but it can lead to a new generation that will more readily embrace and welcome all Jews, underscoring Judaism’s central tenet that each of us is created in the image of God.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Jewish day school dirty little secret

Two annual events in the Jewish community took place this week — the North American Jewish Day School Conference and the start of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. Perhaps not coincidentally, despite the fact that the Day School conference is the largest in history with more than 1,000 educators and supporters gathering in Washington, it does not offer a session on educating and respecting children with disabilities.
So here’s the dirty secret of the Jewish community. While Jews have been at the forefront of civil rights for African Americans, gays, women and immigrants, Jewish Day schools barely do more than “talk the talk” when it comes to including children with disabilities.
If you have a child with a disability who wants a Jewish education, it’s hard to get them accepted and supported. Many parents will find that if their kids are slightly outside the mold of the “cookie cutter kids” that are smoothly on their way to excellent universities and successful careers, that their child might, just might get accepted. If they are lucky, there will be some special support for them child in the early years of school. But if their child’s learning, physical or other differences become too inconvenient eventually they will be called to the school so they can “counsel out” your child.
They will be told ever-so-nicely how sorry they are that they can’t accommodate this child. They might even give you a free lecture about how grateful you should be (as your child is being dismissed) that the school previously offered your child a time slot for the public school speech therapist to come in or tutor. After all, none of that was offered at Jewish day schools decades ago.
As if that could make you and your child feel better and get the education you wanted. Additionally, parents will find that if their child has “behaviors” or mental health issues, certain physical disabilities, seizures, or a lack of “normative” social skills due to Autism Spectrum Disorder, their child simply won’t ever be accepted to many of the Jewish day schools.
Worse yet, the school will accept the child briefly, until they discover that they have not put the proper supports in place. Then something bad will happen like an “unexpected behavior” and the child will be unceremoniously thrown out. The parent might be offered a discussion on the importance of making schools “safe and successful” for the other children who don’t have disabilities.
The parent will feel the full sting of rejection for their child. The combination of hypocrisy, humiliation and hurt may mean that the Jewish community loses this child and family forever.
This isn’t an isolated problem. Approximately 200,000 Jewish children in America have some sort of disability. Given that there is a link between the age of a father and Autism – and that Jews wait longer than most other group in America to have children – this is a growing challenge.
Jewish private schools are not the only schools to deal with these phenomena. Twenty percent of Americans have a disability and fully fifty-one percent of American likely voters either have a disability or a loved one with a disability.
Many public schools, as well as secular private schools for students with disabilities, are quite excellent. Many of their students, because they get the right supports, will go on to major success. Indeed, speaking at a general session at the conference, Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union pointed out that Jewish day schools can qualify for funds from the government to serve kids with disabilities – but many don’t bother to apply. Rabbi David Saperstein, speaking at the same session, also added that it is inexcusable for Jewish day schools to continue to reject children because they have a disability.
But things are so bad in Jewish day schools in New York City that some parents of kids with disabilities commute from Boston to jobs there. Why Boston? Because the Jewish community in Boston has made it a priority to ensure that every child who wants a Jewish education, regardless of their abilities or differences, can get one.
Indeed, when I reached the spokesperson for the Jewish Day School conference and asked if there were any sessions on working with children with disabilities, she pointed out that Arlene Remz of Boston’s outstanding Gateways spoke at a breakout at the conference two years ago and is attending it this year. It did not occur to her that the best practitioner of inclusion should be a regular feature at every conference.
Now a new Jewish day school is about to start in New York that will only serve Jewish kids with disabilities – because no other Jewish day school there will serve them. This is a tragedy because these kids shouldn’t have to be in a separate school. Since Brown vs. the Board of Education blacks haven’t been relegated to separate schools. Why should children with disabilities? Public schools and recreational programs have made inclusion work. Why can’t private schools?
Judaism teaches that every Jew is created in the image of God. Additionally, it teaches that when Jews were slaves in Egypt, God’s instrument was a person with a disability. Moses was “slow of speech and tongue.” So how can a religious school on the one hand teach that God picked Moses to lead, and on another hand exclude a child who is non-verbal?
America would not tolerate it if a prestigious school rejected a child because they were Jewish. Why do Jews continue to tolerate the blatant discrimination in our religious schools?
Mind you, many private schools, Jewish included, will explain that they are doing a lot more for kids with mild disabilities than they did decades ago. Indeed, progress has been made and there are pockets of excellence and teachers who care. There are wonderful programs in Chicago, Baltimore and Miami that serve some children, for example. There indeed are tutors and therapists coming into some of the schools. The tent has expanded, and that is a good thing. But few if any of the school have an inclusion committee. They are lacking board members who have children with disabilities and who focus on those issues. Fewer still have board members with a disability. Few regularly ask the parents of children with special needs, and those students, how they feel about the services and experiences they are getting. Most are not yet looking at how online learning, through places such as the Khan Academy can enable children who learn at different levels to excel.
As Jews, all Jewish institutions reflect on us. So when we don’t work for change, we are all guilty of bigotry. When our Jewish day schools discriminate, we discriminate.
Ending the discrimination of people with disabilities in the Jewish community is not only good for the people with disabilities. It’s good for those who don’t have disabilities as well. After all, without Moses, we’d still be in Egypt.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is Co-Founder and Director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust and President of Laszlo Strategies.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

We need more disabled people in movies and tv screens

ast month I was invited by a young aspiring disabled actor, AJ Murray, to a screening at a film festival of a new documentary, Becoming Bulletproof,in which he’s featured. It tells the story of a group of disabled and non-disabled actors coming together as part of an inclusive arts project, Zeno Mountain Farm, to make a short movie in the California desert, a mini-western called Bulletproof. The documentary has enjoyed rave reviews and been rapturously received at festivals and screenings across North America. And with good reason.
At a time when people with disabilities continue to be woefully underrepresented or employed in film and TV, either in front of or behind the camera, Becoming Bulletproof compels its audiences to think differently about disability. But it also indirectly challenges those involved in the entertainment industry to reassess the contributions disabled people can make.
By chronicling the production of the mini-western from early preparations to being on set, to the premiere and by harnessing thoughtful interviews with the actors who have a range of physical and intellectual impairments, the result is insightful and entertaining. Becoming Bulletproof works because it avoids regurgitating tired tropes, such as saccharine tales of overcoming adversity, while managing to communicate the barriers that persist for disabled people in everyday life and for people like Murray who want to break into TV or film.
When Murray, who has cerebral palsy, talks to camera about his dream of becoming an actor, you see a young man with ambition who refuses to be defined by disability. The film’s director, Michael Barnett, says: “We wanted to make an exceptionally humanising film, and to start a conversation about how disabled people, rarely seen on screen or in our media, are excluded from our wider culture. Why? And what are we missing when we reduce our human diversity?”

It would be difficult for anyone watching Becoming Bulletproof not to think it’s time we all demanded to know why there aren’t more opportunities in film and TV for people with disabilities. Not just by increasing the number of roles and portrayals on screen – issues that have been raised time and again in the UK and the US and that have seen some moves towards greater equality, includingrecently at the BBC – but also when it comes to jobs right across the industry.
Lawrence Carter-Long, an authority on the history of people with disabilities in film and TV who works for the federal National Council on Disability and has researched the subject extensively, says this latest documentary is a step in the right direction but that much more needs to be done in the mainstream entertainment and film sectors. “It’s improving but that’s not saying much because the situation has been pretty dismal,” says Carter-Long, who has a disability
Even with a growth in the number of disabled characters, (“we’re not even talking actors”), the status quo is a long way off reflecting the disabled population (19%-20% in the US according to the last census). Research consistently shows, Carter-Long points out, that the proportion of disabled characters on screen “hovers at around 1%”.
In the UK signs are increasingly encouraging, not least with primetime television soaps such as EastEnders and Coronation Street casting people with disabilities. In the case of Coronation Street, 26-year-old Liam Bairstow made history in August this year when he became the first actor with Down’s Syndrome to be hired by the show.
It’s early days, but the positive reception to Becoming Bulletproof so far could be seen as evidence of a market for quality work that includes or is about disabled people. It also may explain why the company run by Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame has just struck a deal with the documentary makers for distribution rights, which Barnett hopes will see the film screened beyond the US very soon.
Murray believes a good starting point could be a conference that brings together “artists, writers, producers, executives and also studio heads to discuss all these issues and how to bring about real, practical change”. Whatever the route, there’s little doubt that something needs to change – and soon. As Murray says: “Disabled people should have a seat at the pop culture table.”

Friday, February 5, 2016

First disabled lego unveiled!

Photos: Daniel Karmann/Getty Images
Lego has released its first young disabled minifigure, and everyone wants to talk about it. I know what you're thinking. With all the millions of kinds of Legos out there, how could this possibly be a first?
Well, it's a qualified first. Lego previously received criticism for releasing an elderly minifig with a wheelchair into the Duplo line, which activists said merely reinforced stereotypes. The biggest difference is that regular Lego is aimed at much older kids than Duplo, and the new minifig in the wheelchair is clearly a cool dude wearing a beanie and a hoodie. 
Wheels4Lego has been actively campaigning for this particular addition for a long while, and more recently the #ToyLikeMe campaign went after both Playmobil and Lego for failing to represent children with disabilities.

Of course, both campaigns are on trend with the demand for inclusivity in toys. And thanks to social media, activists are able to rally the sort of considerable pressure that makes toy companies like Mattel finally get around to releasing new body types for their girl Barbie.
The whole issue came as a bit of a shock to me, because you can get tons of Lego superhero figures, pretty much any kind you want. And there are disabled superheroes! But I looked it up. They do not have official Lego Professor X figs or Barbara Gordon/Oracle figs. They don't even have Stephen Hawking!
Like most things that aren't available through official Lego channels, you can buy fan-crafted mods, or outright forgeries, or—you know—build your own from bricks. But the official acknowledgement was what activists were seeking.
According to Rebecca Atkinson, co-founder of ToyLikeMe, "It's pretty momentous, even though it's just a little toy. It's about the message behind it, which is far, far bigger than a little one-inch-tall plastic guy." 

See how people in israel respond to blind guy asking for change