Jewish Disability Advocates Come Together for Annual Day of Learning and Advocacy

By Rebecca Wanatick, Manager of Community Inclusion

JDAIM Group PhotoIn the Supreme Court building there are three depictions of Moses incorporated in the architecture. Moses is clearly represented as an important lawgiver in this structure that houses our American legal system. It is believed that Moses was an individual with a speech disability, unsure of his own skills in acting as a leader of the Jewish people. G-d encouraged Moses and highlighted his strengths, noting that his brother Aaron would offer any support that Moses needed to fulfill his responsibilities. As Jewish leaders in our community, like Moses, sometimes we need the guidance and support of others to help us push forward with our mission. 

On Thursday, February 2, 11 NJ professionals and lay leaders, representing seven Jewish community agencies, travelled to Washington, D.C. to participate in Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD), a day of learning and advocacy for individuals with disabilities and their families, as part of February’s Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). With approximately 200 people from across the country in attendance, it was the largest group yet as JDAD enters its seventh year. We come together to strengthen and teach one another, and are then empowered to go and speak on our own behalf, and on behalf of the millions of Americans with disabilities. 

Disability advocates spent the morning learning about the challenges facing many individuals with regard to the proposed changes to Medicaid and the Americans with Disabilities Act under the new administration. We heard from family members, congressional leaders, and advocates about the potential negative impact on members of our communities and our partner agencies.  The NJ State Association of Jewish Federations’ Jewish Community Disabilities Working Group has already been addressing these issues locally, with regard to the changes being implemented within the Department of Developmental Disabilities and the transition to a Medicaid Fee for Service model. 

With regard to Medicaid, while reform may be needed, transforming the program into a block grant or capping the program’s funds would jeopardize access to the needed services for millions of Americans with disabilities. Consequences could include the restriction of enrollment, eligibility, and benefits, limiting or cutting crucial services for individuals with disabilities. People depend on Medicaid for habilitation and therapeutic services that lead to a healthier and more independent life. These proposed changes would greatly impair the ability of people with disabilities to live and work more independently and productively. 

With regard to preserving the Americans with Disabilities Act, the advocates were asking senators and representatives to oppose HR 620 which would undermine a key part of the ADA and lead to a less accessible society. HR 620 would shift the burden of ensuring compliance with the ADA to individuals with disabilities who are being denied access to public accommodations due to a business owner’s failure to comply with the laws of the ADA.  For example, if an individual was unable to attain access to their doctor’s office, laundromat or supermarket, due to a physical barrier, that individual would need to wait 180 days before even filing a complaint with the Department of Justice.  This wait period is particularly problematic if access to the business is essential to their daily living.  People with disabilities should not need to wait months to exercise their civil rights under the ADA. 

The afternoon was spent making advocacy visits to our New Jersey legislative offices. Our group had the opportunity to meet with staff from Congressman Payne’s and Congressman Frelinghuysen’s offices, sharing our concerns for constituents in our communities. Members of our group shared personal stories of members of the community and how the proposed changes in Medicaid and the ADA would hinder living a more productive and independent life. 

Locally, we want to continue to share stories about how the current changes in New Jersey have impacted members of our community, or how the proposed changes could do so.  If you have a story to share, please reach out to me, Rebecca Wanatick, Manager of Community Inclusion, at (973) 929-3129 or rwanatick@jfedgmw.org. We must continue to work together to advocate for individuals with disabilities and their families.