A Step Forward for Inclusion

By Seth Goldberg, Government Affairs Associate

As you may recall, last July marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA gave civil rights to people with disabilities, making it illegal to discriminate based on disability in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.

Allow me to borrow the words of Elana Margolis, Associate Director at JCRC, from a blog post she authored to commemorate that anniversary:

“I know that removing barriers is not the same as creating opportunities. Twenty-five years later, across the country, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are disproportionately high; accessible and adequate educational opportunities are hard to find; and, transportation options remain sorely lacking.”

By no means has the ADA resolved all the challenges people with disabilities face daily, but it has certainly changed America’s accessibility, attitude, and awareness.

At JCRC, we advocate for employment services and community supports for our Commonwealth’s residents with disabilities. We  join with so many wonderful organizations – like Gateways, the CJP Synagogue Inclusion Project, the Ruderman Family Foundation and others here in Boston,– working hard for a fully inclusive Jewish community.

Since I am in a borrowing mood, I’ll share the words of Jeremy Burton, JCRC’s Executive Director, from one of his recent weekly blog posts:

“For JCRC as a network of the organized Jewish community, our mission isn’t focused solely on inclusion within our Jewish community. We also look beyond our community, bringing our values into the broader civic discourse. Together with so many of you, we are committed to ensuring that every single person in our Commonwealth has the opportunity to live to his or her fullest potential, with dignity and hope.”

This commitment was clearly visible earlier this month when JCRC worked with our partners and the Massachusetts State Senate to pass two bills aimed at removing barriers for people with disabilities. Senate Bills 1323 and 2142, passed on March 3rd, expand the range of housing and employment opportunities for those living with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth.

Senate Bill 1323, which we are working to ensure is approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the Governor, brings Massachusetts and federal regulations into alignment — creating more accessible housing units and improving access to employee-only areas in the workplace. Thank you to our partners on this initiative - the Massachusetts Independent Living Centers, the MS Society, Disability Policy Consortium and Easter Seals.

Senate Bill 2142 would require the state's Supplier Diversity Office to develop standards to identify and recruit, with the intent to hire, qualified applicants with disabilities for employment in its office. In addition, the bill requires that all state employees involved in hiring decisions be trained and educated to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We are thrilled that the Senate also passed these additional bills that positively impact people living with disabilities:

  • Senate Bill 2140, an Act Eliminating Archaic Language Pertaining to Individuals with Disabilities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • Senate Bill 2413, an Act Eliminating Health Disparities in the Commonwealth.
  • Senate Bill 2141, An Act Updating Terminology and Investigative Practices Related to the Protection of Persons with a Disability.

We are grateful for the leadership of Senator James Timilty, Senator Barbara L’Italien and Chair of Senate Ways and Means, Senator Karen Spilka.  Our efforts now turn to working with members of the House of Representatives to ensure swift action to pass these bills.

The Jewish commitment to advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities runs deep in our tradition and JCRC will continue to work with the disability community as staunch advocates for services, opportunities, and inclusion.