May 26, 2024
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Ruderman Family Foundation Launches Inclusion Summit

“I’m in because survival is not enough,” said Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist and NPR host, John Hockenberry. “Keeping people alive with quality healthcare comes with the promise of quality of life. We have to make that a part of the conversation.” How to improve the quality of life for millions of disabled people was the focus of the Ruderman Family Foundation’s first two-day Inclusion Summit.

The Summit began with keynote speaker U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, who received the Morton E. Ruderman Award for his work in promoting social inclusion. Harkin sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that prohibits discrimination against disabled people, in areas like employment. “If we open the doors and get more people employed, we are all going to benefit,” Harkin said, but added that “economic self-sufficiency [for disabled people]” has yet to be achieved.

While pursuing further progress, Honorable Richard Bernstein, the first elected blind justice, stressed that the event was a “celebration of how far we’ve come…by working together.” Bernstein spoke at the Inclusion Summit the day after running the New York Marathon.

Although Justice Bernstein had already run 18 marathons and competed in the Ironman triathlon, the 2015 Marathon presented another challenge. Only two years earlier, Justice Bernstein had suffered a shattered hip and pelvis, landing him in Mount Sinai Hospital for 10 weeks. Yet on November 1, Justice Bernstein finished the race. “Disabled people know what we can do,” he once said, “We just have to be given a chance.”

Social inclusion is about giving people that chance. “The issue of inclusion of people with disabilities in our society will move forward only when we are all networked towards this common cause,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “That’s why the Ruderman Inclusion Summit is taking place.”

The Summit created a forum for over 500 disability leaders and inclusion activists from around the world to share their stories, aimed at fostering advocacy and bringing awareness of social inclusion. “I’m so excited to bring together many different people who care about the same important issue of inclusion,” said Sharon Shapiro, trustee of the Ruderman Foundation. Participants engaged in sessions ranging in topic from social youth and employment to the impact of film and social media.

Heads of New England Yachad, the Tikvah Program, and Special Olympics came together to explain how social inclusion can lead to a culture that values acceptance, tolerance and sensitivity. Liz Offen, director of New England Yachad, stressed that “inclusion is a benefit to the entire community.”

The Summit spanned international communities. Dafna Maor, head of Integration of People with Disabilities in Israel’s Employment Ministry of Economy, shared that Israel has four government ministries that “come together to address every daily life issue for people with disabilities,” government programs that assist with the hiring of employees with disabilities, and quotas for people with disabilities in companies employing more than 100 workers.

By contrast, Dr. Beverly Jacobson, chief executive of Kisharon, noted that while 60-70 percent of people with cognitive impairments in England would like to work, only about 6.7 percent are actually employed. The inclusive approach set forth in the 2001 Valuing People: A New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century White Paper was never fully implemented, due in part to austerity measures in England that hindered progress for those with learning disabilities.

Technology greatly impacts the inclusion of people with disabilities. From assistive communication devices to transportation equipment, people with disabilities are now more able to access information, travel, work, perform self-care activities and communicate their ideas. Israeli company, Presentense, was a Summit attendee and aims to offer an Internet-based initiative for finding needed Assistive Technology (AT) products.

Throughout the Summit, parents-turned-advocates shared their strength and their work in hopes of bettering the world for all disabled people, including their children. Project Director and Filmmaker Dan Habib stressed that media creations should promote social action. The youth-led national campaign “I am Norm” grew out of his film “Including Samuel,” which portrays his own family’s experiences with raising a disabled child.

Melanie Perkins McLaughlin, filmmaker, Project Productions, and mother of three including a daughter with Down Syndrome, quoted Rudyard Kipling who once said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” On November 1-2 at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center, the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Inclusion Summit made history.

Barbara Gottfried has authored over twenty books with Rosen Publishing, Heinemann Publishers, and Pearson Education. She has written for the New Jersey Jewish News (NJJN) and the Jerusalem Post. Barbara serves on Rosen Publishing’s Teen Health & Wellness Expert Review Board. She is the mother of three children, including a son with severe cerebral palsy. Barbara can be reached at [email protected]

By Barbara Gottfried

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