Jewish Leaders Advocate on Disability Issues on Capitol Hill February 13, 2013
To address and improve public policy affecting people with disabilities, The Jewish Federations of North America brought 40 community leaders to Washington this week to take part in Jewish Disability Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. The Feb. 12 event, held in partnership with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, engaged participants from across the country in conversations with high-profile disability policy analysts and advocates, as well as key members of Congress and legislative staff.
“Jewish Disability Advocacy Day offered advocates from across the country an opportunity to learn about, discuss and promote disability policy initiatives among community representatives, lay leaders and influential policy makers,” said Janet Livingston, co-chair of JFNA’s Human Services and Public Policy Disability Committee. “Advocates who attended made great strides towards our movement's commitment to improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities in our communities and to ensure their voices are heard.”
Speakers and presenters included Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the House Republican Conference; Isabel “Liz” Dunst, board member of the Union for Reform Judaism; David Lara, senior legislative associate for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Donna Meltzer, CEO of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities; and Andrew Imparato, senior counsel and disability policy director for Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
In her opening remarks, Dunst pointed to issues like high poverty and unemployment rates among adults with disabilities, and disproportionate peer bullying or inhumane teacher restraint for children with disabilities. “We have to look to the future and to what remains to be done if we are to achieve our goal of full inclusion and equal opportunity," she said.
The full day of events included panel discussions on topics including how the fiscal cliff debate impacts the disability community, disability policy priorities in the 113th Congress, and the benefits of the Community First Choice (CFC) option in Medicaid and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act to the disability community. Participants also attended meetings with 20 different members of Congress to advocate on the Community First Choice option in Medicaid, as well as the ABLE Act.
“Jewish Disability Advocacy Day afforded me the opportunity to gain understanding and to speak with elected officials about policies that will make a tangible difference in the lives of people with disabilities and their families,” said Marci Harris-Blumenthal, director of Community Planning and Allocations of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
Tuesday’s events marked the third consecutive year in which members of the Jewish Disability Network – a network of national Jewish organizations engaging in advocacy on disability issues – came together on Capitol Hill to learn about and advocate for key public policy issues during Jewish Disability Awareness Month.
“We must continue to educate members of Congress on the benefits of home- and community-based services for people with disabilities and the importance of providing families with the ability to save money for their children's long-term care,” said William Daroff, vice president for Public Policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office.
Jewish Disability Advocacy Day is one of many significant initiatives taking place this February in Jewish communities across North America as part of Jewish Disability Awareness Month. More details of what is happening in other communities can be found here. In addition, the Ruderman Family Foundation has launched the 2013 Ruderman Prize in Disability, which will provide $250,000 in funding to recognize innovative programs and services that foster full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community worldwide. Learn more about the awards here.