Monday, April 29, 2013

Inclusion is NOT Social Action

Lisa Friedman
jewishspecialneeds.blogspot.com

We want April -- Autism Acceptance Month -- to matter, to help further acceptance and understanding of autistic experiences, happiness, and rights for autistic people of all ages and abilities. We will be publishing Autism Acceptance posts and pictures all month long. -TPGA Editors



In a recent post, Inclusion is NOT a Program, I reflected on the notion that while all of our synagogue's programs, classrooms, and worship opportunities should be inclusive, inclusion is not a program.  It’s not a one-time workshop or training session. Inclusion is an attitude, it is something that is just naturally woven into the fabric of what we do. At least it should be.

Today I was reminded of something significant that I have learned from one of my mentors in the world of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion. Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Advisor on Disability Issues at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, teaches that "Inclusion is NOT social action." But all too often, congregations do not know where to "put" their conversations (if they are even having them!) about inclusion, so they fit them under the umbrella of social action.

There is a distinct problem with this. 

By definition, social action stems from the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. There is no doubt that we all need to work together to bring real and lasting change to our world, particularly around the conversation of inclusion. But typically, in congregational life, social action is the term we use to describe the "projects" that benefit others. This is the antithesis of inclusion! We do not "do" inclusion "for" people with disabilities. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how everything we would have done anyway, can be inclusive. See the difference??

Need more?
  • Preparing food for your local shelter = social action
  • Inviting residents of a local group home to Shabbat dinner = NOT social action
  • Planting a garden as a sustainable food source = social action
  • Taking a group of congregants to the Special Olympics NOT social action
Thinking of inclusion as a function of your social action committee perpetuates stereotypes and devalues the significance of any effort you might otherwise bring forward.

So start an Inclusion Committee. Have the conversations. Invite some individuals with disabilities to be a part of those conversations. And then maybe together you can all plan a social action event.



A version of this post was previously published at jewishspecialneeds.blogspot.com.