Tag Archives: Disability Awareness

The Credibility of Our Democracy

Like many of you, I’ve been frustrated, angered, and even dismayed as our election has unfolded this year. I’ve been pained by rhetoric that demeans individuals and communities, and worried about our future as a nation when the core values of our democracy are under attack.

As the director of a 501(c)(3) with an advocacy identity, I won’t make public endorsements of candidates. As an American I take pride in my ability to make the most sacred endorsement of all – by casting my vote. But on November 8th, when millions of Americans will head to the polls, many will be deliberately disenfranchised and denied their right to make that most important endorsement.

Since our nation’s founding, there has and continues to be an ebb and flow between those who seek to extend access to the ballot and those seeking to erect barriers to participation. As initially conceived, voting was a privilege of and for the advantaged. Slowly, access was broadened, with Constitutional amendments barring discrimination based on race (the 13th Amendment) and gender (the 19th Amendment). These guarantees barred explicitly racist or gender-based voting prohibitions, but outwardly discriminatory laws were rapidly replaced by provisions and practices that were ambiguous in their words but clear in their intent. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the federal government extended meaningful safeguards to all citizens.

But despite the progress that has been made, there have been persistent attempts to chip away at the right to vote, relying on more innovative, but no less discriminatory justifications. Make no mistake; we are now witnessing a struggle for the soul of our democracy, as full access to voting is still very much under threat.

For the first time since 1965, in the wake of the recent Shelby Supreme Court decision, potential voters will not have access to the full protection of the Voting Rights ActFourteen states have enacted new voting restrictions for the 2016 elections.  One common restriction is the use of voter ID cards, enacted ostensibly to prevent fraud in elections. Getting an ID seems pretty easy: show your driver’s license or your passport – but, for millions of citizens across the country, this requirement operates as a bar to participation, disproportionately impacting seniors, immigrants, people of color and others who may not have the acceptable forms of identification readily available.

Study after study have shown that the pervasive myth of voter fraud is just that, and that voter ID laws wouldn’t even prevent the few documented and verified cases over the past several decades.  A recent study found that out of a pool of more than 1 billion ballots cast  in all federal, state and municipal elections between 2000-2014, there were only 31 instances in which issues could have been resolved by such a voter ID. Do we even need voter ID laws if fraud creates an imperceptible impact on any election? The United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, striking down part of North Carolina’s harshest voter ID laws offered a striking, yet unsurprising analysis: “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision….” This is unacceptable, and, with our national network of JCRCs the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA) in Washington, we have joined with a bipartisan coalition of faith based and other partners to pass a new Voting Rights Act.

It is not merely discriminatory laws or policies that stand in the way of full participation in the electoral process. For many people with disabilities, it is a casual inaction that has left an estimated 3 million voters home during the last election.  A white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that 73% of polling places had some potential barrier to voting. The study identified five recurring obstacles: (1) insufficient poll worker training; (2) access barriers to polls; (3) access barriers to registration or election materials; (4) stigma; and (5) limitations on information available to election officials. With the identification of these and other impediments, we are armed with the information and tools to solve these problems.

For the Jewish community, the struggle for voter rights has been a defining part of our social contract with this nation. We know that when one person is denied access to the equal protection and full enjoyment of our democracy, we all suffer the consequences.

In a year in which much noise has been made by some about the fairness of our election, it is the disenfranchisement of so many that raises the greatest threat to the credibility of our democracy. This season, and in the year to come, I hope you’ll join me in casting your lot with those leaders and organizations who reject these efforts and who are working together to repeal discriminatory laws and ensure access. By doing so, we will recommit ourselves to the path of expanding democracy that has made our nation ever greater since the days of our founders.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

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.

 

JCRC and MAJF Honor Community Leaders and Legislators at State House Reception

(Boston, MA) - The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) and the Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF) hosted their 18th Annual Legislative Reception at the Massachusetts State House (Great Hall) on Thursday, February 26 at 4:00 P.M. This year’s Legislative Reception was chaired by Nancy Kaplan Belsky & Samantha Joseph.

JCRC|MAJF honored Paul Bernon and the Ruderman Family Foundation for their visionary leadership on JCRC's disability policy agenda and Senator Dan Wolf, Representative Joe Wagner and Rita Noonan from Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's office.

“It is a privilege to partner with so many dedicated public servants,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC. “This year’s honorees set the bar high with their steadfast commitment to building a more equitable and inclusive society.”

“I'm honored to be recognized by JCRC, and I look forward to our continued good work together on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities,” said honoree Paul Bernon.

“The Ruderman Family Foundation is honored to partner with JCRC in promoting creative programs, which successfully include people with disabilities in our community, to the legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. "The professionalism and progressive advocacy of JCRC is unparalleled and we are humbled that they have chosen to recognize our foundation’s leadership in advocating for the rights of people of all abilities.”

State Senator Daniel Wolf, recipient of a Legislative Achievement Award, added, “JCRC continues to inspire us all with their social justice efforts and advocacy around issues that have a lasting impact in our Commonwealth. I thank them for their continued guidance, and encouragement in my role as the Senate Chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, and I look forward to our continued partnership.”

“I am honored and I am grateful to JCRC for this recognition, and for all that they do on behalf of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable populations,” said State Representative Joseph Wagner. “They are a strong advocate for the Secure Jobs Program, and I am proud to say that my colleagues and I in the Legislature voted to fund that Program in last year’s budget.”

Rita Noonan of the office of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and recipient of the Legislative Staff Achievement Award, added, “I am honored to be receiving this prestigious recognition. The Jewish Community Relations Council is an outstanding organization, with such high standards, that I am truly humbled.”

Honoree Bios

Senator Daniel A. Wolf, Cape & Islands

Senator Dan Wolf is a third-term Massachusetts State Senator representing the Cape and Islands District. Senator Wolf serves as the Chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee. He is also the Founder and Chief Executive Officer for Cape Air in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

Representative Joseph F. Wagner, Eighth Hampden

State Representative Joseph F. Wagner was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1991 and has been a member of House leadership for more than a decade. Representative Wagner currently serves as House chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. The committee reviews all legislation relating to state economic development policy and recommends bills to the full legislature.

Rita Noonan, Office of Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg

Rita is a trained paralegal and holds a Masters’ degree in public policy from UMass Boston. Rita joined Team Rosenberg in 2008 after many years working for former Senators Cheryl Jacques and Robert Antonioni. She welcomes all visitors to the office and manages Senator Rosenberg’s office needs and calendar. Rita will soon be starting her new role as Deputy Director of Civic Engagement.

Paul M. Bernon

Paul Bernon is Co-Founder and Principal of Burn Later Productions. Paul is involved in all aspects in the company’s investments, from identifying material through the sales and marketing of each film. Paul’s film “Results” premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by Magnolia Pictures, and will be released in May of 2015. He serves as a Board Member for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston and as an Overseer for WGBH, a member station of the Public Broadcasting Service, and the Boston Children’s Hospital. Paul is currently serving as Chair of JCRC’s Disability Advocacy Committee.

The Ruderman Family Foundation

The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community. Guided by their Jewish values, they support effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy in their core areas of interest: advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community; fostering a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community among Israeli leaders; and modeling the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide. The Foundation provides funding, leadership, expertise and insight in both the U.S. and Israel, with offices in both countries.

Jewish Community at Forefront of Inclusion Advocacy

With February being Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), we are reminded that the Jewish community continues to be at the forefront of promoting the righteous obligation for inclusion, whether through the high quality of services and programs run by our agencies, the families and people with disabilities who are thriving or the countless volunteers who pitch in their time and resources to create a more open and accessible community.

Yet, for many families and people with disabilities, societal attitudes and limited public resources have created additional obstacles and saddled too many people with financial and emotional barriers where instead opportunity should abound.

JDAM presents us an opportunity to highlight the talents, personalities and sometimes untapped potential of people with disabilities and provides a platform to shine a light on laws and regulations that need to be updated, services that need to be expanded and expectations that need to be readjusted.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) works to bring our community’s values, perspectives and expertise to the public square to effect change and promote dialogue. Over the past several years, our Government Affairs team, including our newly formed Disability Advocacy Committee, has played a key role with our state leaders and federal delegation, testifying on behalf of bills, advocating for familial supports and innovative program and working in collaboration with other leading voices.

This year also marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and for the young adults of the ADA generation, it has never been a question about their own abilities, but rather the overcoming the expectations and obstacles that others have set.

We urge you to use the opportunity of Jewish Disability Awareness Month to call your elected officials, neighbors, friends, and colleagues and urge them to support efforts to make a more inclusive community and workplace. If you have a disability, speak up and let the world know that you are an important part of the workforce and that you will not be defined nor limited by anyone else’s expectations.

On Thursday, February 26th, JCRC and Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations will honor the visionary leadership of Paul Bernon and the Ruderman Family Foundation for supporting JCRC's disability policy agenda and to Senator Dan Wolf, Representative Joe Wagner and Rita Noonan from Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's office our 18th Annual Legislative Reception at The Massachusetts State House.

If you are interested in attending or supporting this event, go to http://bit.ly/1L93MOb.