Fighting Stigma: Breaking Down the Walls

See how members of the Sally and Howard Levin Clubhouse are fighting mental health stigma by sharing their experiences in the evening of storytelling “Breaking Down the Walls: building Empowerment”. Clubhouse member Heidi Morris shares her insight in this video.

Interview with the Co-Founder of JDAIM: Shelly Christensen

Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD, is the Senior Director of Faith Inclusion at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Shelly is a pioneer and leader in the faith community disability and mental health inclusion movement. Her passion for this work is anchored by her experiences as the parent of a child with autism. Long before she was an emerging leader in the field, Shelly was trained as a parent advocate, unwaveringly holding the school accountable for her son’s rights to a free appropriate public education as mandated in the IDEA.  

After publication of her book, The Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities, she was in demand as a keynote speaker, trainer, and consultant for other communities. She founded Inclusion Innovations to expand her capacity to work with diverse faith-based organizations.

In 2009, Shelly co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Through Shelly’s leadership, JDAIM is recognized around the world by local, national and international organizations.

Click here to see an interview about Shelly, how JDAIM came to be, and how you can get involved.

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Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month Profile: Sharon Shapiro

Sharon Shapiro lives in Charles Morris Hall on Munhall Road in Squirrel Hill and participates in Jewish Residential Services’ Supportive Living Program. This program provides ongoing support which allows participants with intellectual disabilities to live independently in their community.

Sharon, who has ADD, a cognitive disorder, and a seizure disorder, has been employee of Giant Eagle for the past 21 years, she also has an excellent job history. Her parents and job coach helped her find the job which, importantly, provided access to better health benefits.

She gathers carts at Giant Eagle, which can sometimes be physically taxing for her. However, when she comes home at the end of her shift or if she has a difficult day and feels the need to unwind, she knows exactly what to do: cook. “Cooking helps me get out the stress,” she explained.

Sharon’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, owned a restaurant in Whitehall for several years. Growing up, she would watch and help her grandfather cook. “He never wrote any recipes down. They were all from memory, so I make my own version of the food he used to make,” Sharon said.

When she talks about cooking, she lights up; cooking relaxes her. She loves to bring various dishes to social events in Morris Hall and experiment with new versions of old recipes.

“I wish I could have went to culinary school,” Sharon explained. “Because of the medicines I have to take, I don’t have a steady hand, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get a job cooking.”

Many people with disabilities share Sharon’s concerns and sense of discouragement. The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed 32 years ago,  prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and reasonable accommodations must be made to enable an individual to perform essential job functions. However, in 2020, only one-third of managers claimed to know the details of the ADA’s legal requirements. This makes it easy to see why people with disabilities perceive workplaces as inaccessible.

Although Sharon does not currently have her dream job in the culinary world, she does have work that adds structure to her day, provides her with the medical benefits she needs and gives her financial independence. She encourages anyone with a disability to speak to a job coach.  A job coach can help with interview practice, transportation planning, and support an individual in sustaining employment.

Click here to see virtual events taking place during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month.

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Action alert: tell Senate to support the Build Back Better Act to improve the lives of people with disabilities

Congress recently passed a historic bill that can improve the lives of millions of people with disabilities who rely on home and community-based services. The bill is now awaiting passage by the Senate.  The Build Back Better Act would also improve the lives of direct support professionals and the loved ones of people with disabilities by: 

  • Expanding access to Medicaid home and community-based services
  • Creating a national paid leave program
  • Addressing the direct care workforce crisis, including raising wages
  • Improving and expanding the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program

Please take two minutes and click here to tell your Senator to support the Build Back Better Act to help
improve lives of people who need it the most. 

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Disability rights and the power of advocacy

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Did you know that you have the power to influence elected officials to pass legislation that betters the lives of people with disabilities? Watch Aaron Kaufman, Senior Manager of Legislative Affairs in Jewish Federation of North America’s Washington DC office, Laura Cherner, Director Community Relations Council at Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and Dr. Josie Badger, Disability Activist and Consultant, to learn what advocacy is all about, how it works and its importance to improving the lives of people living with disabilities. In this panel discussion, you will learn how you can get involved and have a direct impact.

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