May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Disability of Forgetting

As I write this, it has come to my attention that today and tomorrow, February 23 and 24, have been designated Jewish Disability Advocacy Day. In fact, the entire month of February has been set aside to recognize the world of disabilities. I believe that today, it is unusual for any family to not have experienced the uniqueness of having a person with any type of disability within the confines of their world. One of the reasons for that is because although the physical presence in our own homes might not be occupied by a family member with a disability, it would be rare to say that there is anyone who is not aware of such a person. At this point, in the year 2022, I believe that it is the responsibility of every single person to help make smoother paths for those having difficulty in navigating their day to day activities. What so many of us just take for granted is not so for all…

Try to picture yourself as the parent of a child with autism who needs to never be left alone. That means that even when he is 15 or 20 he still needs to have someone to watch him. In the average family, once a child reaches 12-14, parents often do not hesitate to leave them alone. Some are even left alone in charge of younger siblings, and as the children get older the parents give them more and more responsibility and certainly feel free to go out without worrying.

There was never a day while my daughter Naama was living at home that I could even run out to get a quart of milk unless I made sure there was someone in the house with her. There was never a late-night walk alone with my husband, a-spur-of-the moment decision to go to a movie. Everything that we did had to be planned depending upon what the babysitter options looked like. Forget spontaneity; in the home of a child with special needs who cannot be left alone that word is meaningless.

How great it would have been if someone had called to suggest that they come and spend time in our home so that we could go out. I am sure that most people here know of someone who could use this respite, and I am also sure that for most the idea of offering this to a neighbor or friend was never thought of. That is the disability I am referring to when I suggest that we all have a responsibility to be more actively involved in ways that most would never think of.

There are tons of young people with special needs who would be thrilled to have a job even for just a few hours a week. They may look slightly different, might not be able to converse as well as the average person and might even spill something as they try to restock a shelf. It is our responsibility to encourage businesses and storekeepers to further open their doors to the special needs community. How many of our nursery school programs employ young women or men with special needs as assistants? Don’t worry, there are many who would be helpful and charming and there should be no fear that the “employee” would require more attention than their charges. An extra bonus would be the younger children having the opportunity to familiarize themselves with people who might or might not look slightly different, and in many cases they would not even notice it.

I know this community is really into sports and spectators now that some of the COVID rules and regulations are easing. How many schools and teams have reached out to special needs organizations to invite their membership to watch the game together with everyone else? Integration needs to begin at a very early level of education.

I remember my daughter’s first-grade teacher, who was a pioneer in the field of familiarizing her students with those who were different. One day she invited a blind skier to come and address the class. Another day it was someone with another disability, and one day it was even our daughter Naama showing the students in the class how she communicated by pointing to symbols. Little 6- and 7-year-olds watched in awe as they surrounded her wheelchair and she would point to her board and ask each one individually when their birthday was or whether or not they had a brother or sister. The kids went wild. For years we would meet a child who had attended that sensitivity session and they would be as excited to see Naama as she was to see them. Had they not had that experience in school they likely would have passed her by with the same fear and trepidation that many exhibit when passing someone who is different.

This is not the first time that I have written about this subject. It is one that is very important to me. Yes, we are fortunate in this community to have amazing schools and organizations such as SINAI, Yachad and Friendship Circle, which work diligently to do integrated programming, and of course the star of it all is Camp HASC, which has offered families and campers the few weeks of normalcy that others take for granted without batting an eye. Yet more needs to be done.

Do not think that there are not many adults in the community who suffer from disabilities that may not be obvious. Many sit in their homes alone, wishing that a friend or acquaintance would drop in to say hello to them. Some suffer from mental illness. As my Mordechai always told me, “A mental illness is worse than a physical illness.” We need to be acutely aware of our neighbors who fit into this category. Yes, sometimes it is scary and surely uncomfortable, but we need to recognize this portion of our community and force ourselves to not leave them in the isolation that they have in some cases placed upon themselves.

In negotiating in our minds what the correct thing is to do, try not to lean towards the easier option.

Please do not wait until a close family member is diagnosed with an unfortunate disability to become involved. In some situations it is easier to donate money than to reach out personally and ask what you can do. Many little and big children sit alone in their homes on Shabbat in particular, watching their siblings running about. That special child also needs a visitor and I doubt that they would mind if that person was young or old. For sure that child’s parents, who frequently cannot go out themselves, could use a friendly visitor. These are just a few ideas of how we can be less afraid in reaching out to those who would so welcome a warm smile. It is time to overcome our inhibitions and just do it.

I always think about the common denominator expressed by most who allow themselves to become involved with the special needs community. Most say they have derived more pleasure from the experience than they ever could have imagined.


It is worth a try. Let’s make Disability Month an everyday occurrence so that we would not need to set aside a specific time to remember it. Nina Glick can be reached at [email protected].

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