Jewish Disabilities, Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month is for everyone, everywhere | Shalom Austin

Jewish Disabilities, Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month is for everyone, everywhere

Jewish Family Service, The Jewish Outlook

Jan 25, 2022

By Allison Teegardin

Jewish Disabilities, Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM) begins on February 1. Founded in 2009 by the Jewish Special Education International Consortium, the goal of JDAAIM is for Jewish communities around the world to raise awareness and encourage inclusion for all people with disabilities and special needs. Here’s what is happening in the Austin community and beyond.

Local: Jewish Family Service Strengthening the Greater Austin Community

Serving Austin and surrounding areas, Shalom Austin Jewish Family Service (JFS) is the professional human and social service branch of Shalom Austin. JFS provides a wide array of mental health and support services to the Jewish community and to the wider Austin community. JFS also provides consultation related to the inclusion of people with disabilities in services and programs in the Austin Jewish community.

JFS has teamed up with Austin Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) to create Project Negishut. Negishut is the Hebrew term for accessibility. The goal is to make films with subtitles more accessible to individuals with vision impairments. “Currently, auditory recordings are available in the language of the film but not its subtitles,” said Volunteer & Community Experience Director at Shalom Austin, Joan Eisenberg Maniere.“This creates a barrier for those with visual impairments who rely on the subtitles. Therefore, JFS is recruiting volunteers to provide auditory recordings in the language of the subtitles that can be used in conjunction with or in lieu of the original soundtrack. These recordings have the potential to reach a wider audience beyond those with visual impairments, such as individuals with learning /language processing differences or those who face the challenges of illiteracy.”

Shalom Austin Chief Social Services Officer Rabbi Amy Cohen is excited about building the infrastructure to support children and adults with disabilities throughout the Austin Jewish community in the months and years ahead. “We are currently offering inclusion programs in our summer camp and after school programs, and JFS has an ongoing Wellness with a Disability support group as well as our new project Negishut with AJFF. We know we can do more to make our community more accessible and to welcome community members with disabilities fully into our programs through full engagement and employment opportunities. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but Shalom Austin is committed to fully embracing every member of our community.”

National: Jewish National Fund-USA’s National Virtual Event Featuring Marlee Matlin

Jewish National Fund-USA Director of Central Texas Chayla Furlong says that since coming to work for JNF-USA in Austin, she has learned from the organization’s passionate lay leaders and affiliate partners on how JNF-USA has helped change the lives of Israel’s most vulnerable populations in the Negev and Galilee. “Both Jewish National Fund-USA and the State of Israel are committed to ensuring no Israeli is left behind, and that all of Israel’s citizens can enjoy and contribute to a strong, secure, and prosperous Israel,” said Furlong. “It’s truly impressive to see such an emphasis on inclusivity and the way Israelis work to include equal access and opportunity for all, ensuring those children and individuals with disabilities and special needs are integrated into all aspects of daily life and tightly woven into the fabric of Israeli society.”

JNF-USA will kick off JDAAIM on January 31, 2022 with a national virtual event featuring Marlee Matlin, a Jewish and deaf trailblazing Oscar-winning actress, producer, New York Times bestselling author, and activist as the keynote speaker. In addition to hearing from Matlin, attendees will learn about JNF-USA’s disabilities initiatives and its affiliates. The event is free to attend. To register or get more information, visit or contact Center of Excellence Director Beth Ida Stern at or (847) 656-8880 x761.

Everywhere: There Is Something Everyone Can Do

Shalom Austin Jewish Family Service Clinical Director Emma Howitt, LPC-S, LCDC says, “Jewish Disabilities, Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month is a wonderful opportunity to better educate yourself on issues faced by the disability community and expand personal awareness and empathy for folks who navigate through a world that isn’t often designed to accommodate their abilities. Disability is a term that covers a broad range of experiences, and many people forget that some disabilities are ‘invisible’ or not obviously observed by others. JDAAIM is a great opportunity to bring attention to the experiences of Jews with disabilities and learn new paths for allyship. People without a disability can be allies by listening to and centering disabled voices, using person-first language, and normalizing all the differences among humans.”

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