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I spent yesterday on Capitol Hill for Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, which is an opportunity to learn about legislative issues of importance to individuals with disabilities and their families and to lobby members of Congress. People came from all over the country and the day was an inspiring day of learning and advocating as a Jewish community. The morning started with welcoming remarks from David Feinman, Senior Legislative Associate at the Jewish Federations of North America and co-chair of the Jewish Disability Network. Following Dave, Rabbi Lynne Landsberg gave a beautiful d’var about the importance of both work and rest in the Jewish tradition. Rabbi Landsberg explained that “resting” is different than “doing nothing” and that we need to fulfill our obligation to make sure that people with disabilities are able to participate in the workforce and in all aspects of society.
William Daroff, Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of JFNA, and Rachel Laser, Deputy Director of the RAC, both welcomed people to Washington D.C. and spoke of the importance of advocacy work. They highlighted how far we’ve come in the last several decades--and how much more we can be doing to secure disability rights at home and abroad.
The morning then shifted to the legislative briefings. Allison Wohl, Executive Director of Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, discussed the policy implications of passing H.R. 647, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The ABLE Act would allow for the creation creating a tax-advantaged account for disability-related expenses that will supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurance, the Medicaid program, the Supplemental Security Income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources. Under current law, people with disabilities who have more than $2000 in assets are ineligible for many essential government benefits like Medicaid. Families whose child will not go to college cannot save money tax-free for future expenses (as a savings fund for the college-bound would do), which could include costly caregivers, medical visits and housing.
David Morrisey, Executive Director of U.S. International Council on Disabilities, then spoke about the importance of ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD represents an international effort to bring the world closer to achieving the goals of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. There is a great need for this treaty across the globe. Approximately 650 million people, some 10 percent of the world population, live with a disability—making them the world’s largest minority. More than 140 countries have ratified the CRPD to date, but the United States has not yet done so.
Once we were briefed on the issues, Barbara Weinstein, Associate Director of the RAC, went through “Advocacy 101” to fully prepare everyone for the afternoon of meetings with House and Senate offices. Now that we knew the issues and how to advocate for them, we were ready for our meetings!
Now that Jewish Disability Advocacy Day is over, what can we do next? Be sure to be involved in Jewish Disability Awareness Month in other ways. Most importantly, we can continue to make our voices heard on both the ABLE Act and the CRPD. Whether you were able to join us in DC today or not, we can make sure that our legislators know what we care about.
Leviticus 19:14 commands us not “to insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Stumbling blocks can come in many forms, and today, this month, and always, we can affirm our commitment to supporting disability rights by advocating for equal rights and opportunities for everyone.