We all see the news – the deaths, the job losses, the pain. It’s all very hard on our families, communities and even our souls. But what is even more important is the tremendous effort to save lives. Some of this, like the heroic work of first responders, makes the news. But much of the quiet battle does not. I’d love to share with you some important work that RespectAbility has accomplished in conjunction with our allies in the Jewish and disability communities, and some predictions we are offering about the future.
The first phase of this crisis in the United States found us at RespectAbility:
- Pulling our community closer online, we reach out through our webinar series and virtual town hall gatherings on COVID-19, disabilities and mental health, as well as virtual support through civic engagement groups.
- Reaching out to leaders, we help them understand how the $1,200 payments to individuals with disabilities on SSI could be done without causing them to lose their access to healthcare through Medicaid, which is asset limited. This enabled $10.2 billion dollars to go to people with disabilities without them losing access to healthcare.
- Working with partners, we continue to enable the U.S. Dept. of Treasury to see that people who do not have income and have not filed taxes can receive the stimulus check without complex red tape, delays and barriers. This helped 4 million people with disabilities who otherwise might not have gotten their $1200.
- Seeing a gaping hole in food access, we successfully advocate nationwide to provide home food delivery for at-risk people with disabilities who cannot access food. Indeed, while we still have a long way to go on this front more than a million people with disabilities can access food this week than last week without putting themselves at risk from the virus.
- Educating employers and organizations, we continue to push for online accommodations (i.e. captioning on Zoom for people who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing and screen reader accessibility for people who are blind/have low vision) and fight to not be excluded in the transition to remote work.
- Amplifying voices through press, our outreach and advocacy cast a light on medical treatment allocation that illegally targets people with disabilities.
The Jewish community has been integral to many of these efforts, but there is so much more that we need our collective voices for as we continue. This is clearly a marathon and not a sprint. Moving into the second phase of this crisis, we need to expand our advocacy on the following fronts:
- Advocate to save community-based services: As state and local governments grapple with the need to balance budgets, we must activate all of our networks to prevent individuals with disabilities from losing the services that enable them to live. In recent years, we’ve met one-on-one with 48 governors, hundreds of legislators and their staffs, and countless officials at all levels. We will continue educating them on these important issues and enlisting them in the fight for our community. We will need your help and that of many others on that front. Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so.
- Prevent students with individualized education plans and other disability-related learning needs from being lost in the shuffle: Even as some school districts around the country contemplate reopening, we do not know if or when it will be a safe return for students whose disabilities make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Meanwhile, much of distance learning is inaccessible to students who are blind or Hard of Hearing or Deaf, or who do not have access to technology within their communities. Graduation rates for students with disabilities were already low pre-COVID-19. We will advocate with state and local jurisdictions, as well as private organizations, to protect these children and young adults from being left behind. If you have an expertise of contacts in this area, I hope you will let me know. Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so.
- Fight to keep people with disabilities included in the economic recovery: As employers adapt, employees with disabilities risk being pushed further into the margins. This can happen intentionally, as companies consider the costs of accommodations, or unintentionally, as people find their access needs not met in remote work settings. In response, we are educating employers, helping them to understand both best practices and the business case for truly including employees with disabilities. We also are gathering and distributing resources for people with disabilities to keep and find employment in the new economy. Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so.
This week, as we enter Shabbat with our socially distant meals and virtual services, I continue my prayer of recent times: for a cure a cure, a vaccine, a miracle. But then I pray for strength, because Shabbat will end and the work week will begin, and we will join together in the all-important work of mobilizing our communities to create a miracle, step-by-step, person by person. It is not on any of us to accomplish this alone, and yet as tradition teaches us, we must all do our part. Thank you in advance for your commitment to join with me.
Ken Yehi Ratzon. May it be so!