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Thoughts on Working with Children – Dana Berezowsky May 27, 2010

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in Society.
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Dan said in school yesterday that Ami’s legs disgust him. Why? “Because they are crooked.” Ella’s response: “So you’re perfect, are you?” My response: “Deal with it.”

Now, writing about it at home, another question arises: what does it bring up for Dan, or any other child, to see a person with a physical difference? Perhaps fear? The fear that it could happen to me too? Disability is frightening at the most personal level – what if it happens to me? What if I have a child like this? Noam, who works with the survivors of wars and road accidents, sees it all the time – this coming to terms with what is lost.

I remember a man I once saw with three other children on the bus. Through the window we could see that he walked a little funny. It’s true. But if we tell him – he will be hurt. If we laugh at him from a distance – it will be insensitive. He really does have a funny walk. I try to think what I would tell my own children.

I have a problem with preaching morals. “We don’t say things like that,” “It’s not nice” – this kind of speech represses the problem but does not make it disappear. Then I thought to say – “I wonder whether he’s a nice person.”

Perhaps this is what takes us beyond our superficial judgments: of what is beautiful, ugly, disabled. The question “Who is this person?” To see him as a person. Even if I have no intention of actually getting to know him, my perspective on him might change.

And to Dan? “So what if Ami has crooked legs?” There is no point trying to blur the facts. But we can point out different aspects of them. And certainly we can point out to Dan that saying it in Ami’s hearing is very insulting…

Dan told me the answer: “It disgusts me”. That is a strong statement. Does it frighten him? Can disgust hide some other feeling? All the same, is it not worth trying to understand the source of his disgust? Does Dan’s statement really come from some inner feeling, or is he looking for a way to provoke a response? Also a question.

As an educator I have two options: to cancel out Dan’s statement in a few words; “Deal with it”; “So you’re perfect, are you?” Or else to enter into the depths of the issue. This in itself removes the sting from the provocation: he wanted to annoy, and got a lecture.

The correct response must depend on the time and place, and we are bound to get it wrong many times. In the end, intuition and experience are the best tools we have.

Dana Berezowsky is an occupational therapist working at the Ilonot School, Jerusalem, and in a ‘training apartment‘ for teenagers with Cerebral Palsy. Translation: Jessica Sacks.

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If you call this ‘Normal’… – Jessica Sacks May 13, 2010

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in If you call this 'Normal'....
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I am ‘healthy’. That is, I have not been diagnosed with any disability, I have full use of my limbs and senses, and I am able to live an active life in society. Sometimes a little too active for my liking. But otherwise, I am ‘healthy’, and ‘normal’.

I have always been a little involved, through my friend Cissie, with a different kind of normal. Together we used to go to summer-schools for children with disabilities; summer camps where the activities were accessible to people who used wheelchairs or who could not see or hear or think problems through in the same way I can. The camp counselors, though I did not know it at the time, included physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and special education teachers. For me it was just a summer camp like any other; moments I enjoyed, moments when I was bored, children I liked more, children I liked less.

Nowadays life is a little different. I work in an office which does not have a disabled-access toilet. This means that I will probably never have a colleague there who uses a wheelchair. Not because they could not do the job, but because they could not use the building. I live on the second floor of a building with no lift. I live in a hilly city full of steep slopes, irregular outdoor staircases and building-sites which spill across the pavement into the road. I have come to realize that I live in a world where not everybody is seen, not everybody is listened-to, not everybody can access the things, the culture, the human contact, that make my life good.

This hurts me, not because I pity these people – people can have good lives which are not the same as mine. It hurts me because of what it means about the society I live in.

Through my friendship with Cissie I have become involved with building this forum. I have begun to listen out more to the ways in which the society I live in defines who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Through the Israel Disability Studies Network I am beginning to learn more about what this means and how we can make things change. For me this is one of the biggest adventures of my life: it means seeing my world in a completely new way. I am planning to keep a diary of this journey on the site, and welcome anyone who would like to join me on my way, to inform, share, comment, scream, laugh. Educate me, please…

Braille Menus in the Cafes of Jerusalem – Sagi Yudovitz May 5, 2010

Posted by jewishdisabilityunite in Action, Society.
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“We have a menu in Braille!” the waitress greets me joyfully, and rushes to lay it down in front of me. This is fast becoming a common event in the cafes and restaurants of Jerusalem, thanks to the activities of Bema’aglei Tzedek.

The organization publishes menus in Braille as part of the ‘Social Seal’ project. “Lately,” the organisation’s Ohad Zakbach explains, “We have begun to distribute large-print as well as Braille menus, to make things easier for partially-sighted people who are not completely blind.”  Zakbach, speaking on the radio programme ‘Lo Ro’im MiMeter’, explained why the organization has chosen to focus on providing menus for visually impaired people.  In his view, the chance to receive a menu in a form that suits his or her needs, enables a blind or partially-sighted person to experience a greater degree of independence in places of leisure.  Zackbach added that the Braille menus encourage the more frequent and more natural presence of visually impaired people in public leisure spaces, making the wider population more accustomed to the routine presence of people with disabilities in these sites.

The experiment demonstrates that the presence of people with disabilities in general, and in this case, visually impaired people, in places of leisure and in all areas of life, has the effect of breaking stigmas, of undermining walls of repulsion and of educating the public at large to see a person with disabilities as a full personality, and not simply as a function of his disability.

The existence of the Braille menu in a café or restaurant creates an expectation among its workers that people with visual impairments will be among their customers.  The ‘magic writing’ engages their curiosity, and when they finally meet a blind customer, they are eager to ask him about the script, and a conversation is opened up.  This conversation between waiter and customer changes the latter from an anonymous figure to a known, named acquaintance, with a certain sense of belonging to the place.

Humanity could presumably continue to survive without the presence of Braille menus in restaurants.  These menus, however, help blind customers to feel an integral part of the leisure environment.  Large-print menus, by contrast, are utterly essential to people with partial sight; the population at large does not grant these the attention with which fully blind people are lavished, too often leaving partially sighted people in a position of embarrassment.  The enormous gap between the ways in which the blind and partially sighted members of society are treated is a subject for another article; it may be said, however, that when people see a blind person they are generally more than enthusiastic to go out of their way to be of help.

‘Can’t See for Miles’, a magazine programme on issues relating to the blind and partially-sighted community, broadcast on Mount Scopus Radio and online. Sagi Yudovitz is a social activist who keeps a blog on the Israel Disability Experts’ Community site, abiliko.