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Faith Inclusion

Coming Home: My Journey to RespectAbility

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Ben Bond

When I was offered the Faith Inclusion and Belonging Associate position at RespectAbility, I felt I was coming home. The intersectionality of faith inclusion and disability is at the heart of my calling, woven through the very fabric of my being.

I have lived with dyslexia my whole life (what an ironically hard word to spell). When I was in high school, I sustained a physical injury which caused severe constant, chronic, and debilitating pain. The obstacles I encountered with a physical disability made me become intimately and undeniably aware of the physical manifestations of ableism.

As an undergraduate major in religious studies receiving disability accommodations I investigated the connections between disability and spirituality in a multifaith context. I continued that journey at Yale Divinity School and began asking questions about disability and Christian traditions. I was both disheartened and encouraged. I was heartbroken as I came to terms with the ways Christianity was instrumental in constructing the current systems of ableism which are pervasive in western society. I was also curious about ways Christianity could be a site of liberation and transformation for disabled people, faith communities, and institutions. [continue reading…]

The Torah of Bobby Silverstein

Black and white photo of the late Bobby Silverstein smiling wearing a suit and tieI didn’t know what to expect when I met Bobby Silverstein. I had met many great disability icons, but Bobby was sort of a mystery to me, a name that I always knew, but knew very little about. It was thus with some trepidation that I invited him to share an introduction reflecting around 30th anniversary of the ADA on what the law meant to him, as an advocate, a lawyer, and a Jew. Bobby opened his remarks saying “to me, the ADA is a codification of the commandment to do justice and pursue acts of loving kindness.” He continued, “to do justice, one must understand history and the nature of injustice experienced by people with disabilities.” He followed with a haunting and powerful primer on the injustices faced by people with disabilities in Western civilization. [continue reading…]

Mental Health Strategies for the Holiday Season

The holidays can be busy and stressful for many people. The hustle and bustle of decorating, shopping, or for some, being alone or missing a loved one, can be overwhelming. Some push through to the point of not taking care of themselves, while others may withdraw. Everyone copes differently, and there are numerous strategies one could use to help their mental health this holiday season. Here are a few possibilities:

Remember what really matters to you: You could do this by making a list of what you enjoy, including traditions, creating new memories, or spending time with those that matter to you. [continue reading…]

Ending Ableism in the Church: by Gabriella Helkowski and McKenzie Stribich

Abstract art of fingerprints including colorful fingerprints in a heart shape. Text: Ending Ableism in the ChurchOn August 11 and 12, we attended Let’s End Ableism at Church, an interactive webinar hosted by the Disability Concerns ministry of The Christian Reformed Church of North America and The Reformed Church in America.

The first day largely focused on defining ableism in its many forms. The second day laid out practical solutions to ending discriminatory practices against disabled people in the Christian church.

Each day began with a song and reflection on scripture. The pastor giving the first reflection urged us to give grace to our oppressors so that we might invite them into the work of ending ableism. He reminded us that power is a threat to one’s faith in God, and so, in inviting oppressors to be liberators, we engage in life-saving work. [continue reading…]

Reflecting on Advocating for Accommodations

Shelly Christensen smiling headshot

Shelly Christensen

Discovering that I live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was a relief! Managing the lives of three kids in three different schools who were involved in different outside of school activities, learning to navigate the special education system and advocacy, and working full time in an outside sales job created such chaos! Trying to keep on top of everything was simply overwhelming.

I read the book, “Driven to Distraction,” by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey at the request of one of my son’s teachers. My son was diagnosed with ADHD, and his teacher thought it was important that we were on the same page. I appreciated her willingness to work with my son so much that I immediately picked up the book and read it between loads of wash and running carpools. [continue reading…]

Teaching Accessibility One Newsletter at a Time

“Lessons on accessibility – or any kind of advocacy or awareness – can and should never be relegated to just one ‘special’ month. But it’s never too late to start.”

Lily Coltoff smiling headshot

Lily Coltoff

Overseeing an organization’s employee newsletter means having almost complete editorial control, which in turn means that you can more or less add in anything you want, so long as you can argue that it’s both applicable and appropriate. I mostly use this privilege to hype up my team members on their birthdays or to share resources created by some of my favorite coworkers, but sometimes, I use it for education and advocacy – particularly for causes that I care a lot about.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This is a line that I put in an email not so long ago – linking to, of course, RespectAbility and their resources for this recognition month. In general, I always try to link to a Jewish or Jewish-connected organization – whether they are a partner organization or not – that focuses on the community I am hoping to elevate. For Pride Month, we turn to Keshet. Hispanic Heritage Month, Jewtina y Co. Black History Month, the Jews of Color Initiative. And of course, for NDEAM and Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), which takes place in February, I turn to RespectAbility. [continue reading…]

Putting Faith to Work: How Congregations Can Support Employment for People with Disabilities

by Bill Gaventa, PFTW Project Consultant, and Erik Carter, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center UCEDD

How do most of us get our jobs, at least somewhere along our work lives? It is often through personal relationships and networking that we find out about openings. Or, in other words, social capital is often the pathway to work.

Congregations are among the most numerous and natural support organizations in the United States. In fact, there are over 300,000 local faith communities across a diversity of traditions. Who attends these faith communities? Your immediate answer might be a collection of people who share a common set of beliefs and commitments and have chosen a particular congregation as their spiritual home. But there is another way to look at this membership. Faith communities are also filled with employers and employees from throughout the surrounding community. It is comprised of people who have deep knowledge of and personal relationships throughout the community. Moreover, faith communities represent the largest source of donors and volunteers in the country. [continue reading…]

Faith Communities and Mental Health

Logos for Collaborative on Faith & Disabilities and Interfaith Network on Mental IllnessThroughout my research of faith-based organizations that provide services for disability and mental health, a lot of organizations impressed me. I am going to focus on two in particular below.

The first organization that stood out to me was the Collaborative on Faith and Disability. Their homepage shares some fascinating statistics, including that 84% of people with disabilities say their faith is important to them, and that 45% of people with disabilities attend a place of worship at least monthly. [continue reading…]

This Is Our Fast

“I’ve been working hard to integrate accessibility into St. Luke’s idea of what a Beloved Community looks like—what is a community, after all, without disabled people in its midst?”

The sanctuary at St. Luke's Church in California decorated with pride flagsTen years ago this fall, on what my therapist at the time pointed out was also Yom Kippur, I stepped foot into St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach, California for the first time. It was my home from that moment on.

At the age of 21, I’d realized I no longer felt at home in the tradition in which I’d grown up. It no longer served me as I and my worldview changed.

Joining the Episcopal Church gave me room to be who I was. When I joined St. Luke’s, I identified as straight. Spending time amongst my Christian LGBTQIA+ elders allowed me the space to realize I myself was queer, and to come out to myself and those around me. In a church that welcomes and affirms LGBTQIA+ people with open arms, I was no longer the abomination I’d feared I was since teenagehood. Needless to say, growing up queer in the denomination of my youth wasn’t especially easy. [continue reading…]

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