By Jennifer Phillips, Acting CEO
This week marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is an equal rights law that provides broad legal protection to people with disabilities. There were decades upon decades of work and advocacy that went into getting the ADA signed into law. (If you haven’t watched Crip Camp on Netflix yet, I strongly encourage you to hear the firsthand accounts of how one part of the disability rights movement came together.) In these past 30 years, great strides have been made with employment, jobs, schools, accommodations, recreation, public transportation and government services.
Remarkably, Keshet was formed eight years before ADA became the law of the land. A group of parents had a vision of their children having a meaningful place in the Jewish community. In many ways, these parents were forward-thinking by defining accessibility not just as physical accessibility of curb cuts and ramps but also as full inclusion in the world. It was the mission of being able to participate and access everything that was available to their siblings and peers. Keshet was ahead of the times from the very beginning with programs founded in choice, opportunity and independence.
At least, one out of five adults in the United States has a disability. (This number will only continue to grow as Baby Boomers age and autism diagnoses continue to skyrocket.) Though much progress has been made in the past 30 years, we still have a long way to go. Every day I see barriers, physical and systemic, for adults to have employment opportunities, appropriate housing and access to the community. I watch parents struggle to get their children the accommodations they need in public schools. I hear stories of bullying, name calling and exclusion of people who are working so hard to find their independence.
Yet, I know that we are moving in the right direction, not just at Keshet but in the larger community. Just by doing what we do at Keshet, we are fostering the next generation of disability rights advocates. First, and most importantly, Keshet students and adults continue to hone their advocacy skills. Whether this is learning to be a self-advocate by speaking up for your own needs or taking part in legislative advocacy training, those involved in Keshet have thoughts and ideas that need to be heard. Our job is to amplify those voices to all to hear. Our participants are the best disability rights advocates.
Then, there are everyone else who is touched by the work Keshet does. We have built a culture at Keshet that starts at a young age teaching the importance of inclusion. Our day school peer buddy programs start in Kindergarten and shape perceptions of community, acceptance and natural supports. Campers who attend inclusive camp develop lifelong friendships and value these relationships. Through Jewish youth groups who partner with us like BBYO and USY, teens learn what is takes to have an inclusive Jewish community. These experiences transform inclusion from just a concept and make it real, valued and expected. This group of aware and engaged people advocate all the time and in so many settings for inclusion and choice for all.
I have a lot of hope for the progress that will continue to be made in the next 30 years. At Keshet, we will continue to push the limits to make sure that we move forward on all fronts. This week we’ll take a pause to recognize the accomplishments of the last three decades and the incredible people who had the courage and fortitude to get us to where we are today. Then, we’ll be back to the work at hand, changing lives one-by-one and making the future brighter, equitable and just for people with disabilities, our friends, our families and our community.
Graphic Credit: ADA National Network (adata.org)