How we treat our disabled, reflects on us.
A society is judged by how it treats those who are disabled, infirm and otherwise unable to compete equally. There is little doubt that our macro society is not doing very well in this regard. However, one would have expected that a culturally sophisticated and humane community such as the Jewish Community, would distinguish itself in how and what it does for its disabled.
Let me be clear that I am not talking about money. As a community we are very generous in giving when it comes to the disabled. Equally I am not referring to care. We take very good care of our disabled. There are trained and dedicated professionals working tirelessly in more than one Jewish institution to ensure that both the child as well as the parents are well and properly treated.
What I am talking about is dignity instead of charity. Jobs. Sustainability.
There are two truly inspirational people whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in this field. The first is Ralph Salo who has single handedly over the past 20 years managed to turn what was a private organisation dedicated to the interests and rights of would be job-seekers with disabilities, throughout Germany, into a national state endorsed and funded programme.
The second is Professor Reuven Feuerstein whose organisation I have had the pleasure of bringing to South Africa to work with over 1000 Teachers, Therapists, Parents and Care Givers. Some of the Therapists at the Chevra Kadisha have been trained in a programme designed to assist the disabled to self-actualise, to become everything they have the potential to become and thereby to develop a sense of independence and personal freedom from charity.
The irony is that there is superb enabling legislation in this country promoting the employment of people with disabilities. Our tax regime is exceptionally generous for those companies prepared to employ people who are otherwise-abled.
Equally where companies bother to ask, there are many jobs, which globally have been shown to be very well suited to people with specific disabilities. I am not referring here to the proverbial placement of people with disabilities in receptionist positions, although this is obviously one well-suited posting. In the USA, Germany, the UK and Israel people with Autism are used as sound engineers in recording companies, at Radio Stations. They also work well in the News Industry and in photography. Call Centres in India employ a very high percentage of people in wheelchairs or on crutches. Pharmaceutical and chemical companies recruit blind people to work in areas where sight is a distraction, such as in the production of perfumes. Of the best Clinical and Counselling Psychologists around the world there are a number who are disabled in some way. People with Downs Syndrome make excellent, nurturing, attentive Care Givers in Hospitals, Old Age Homes and also amongst children.
We must not ignore the fact that working with the disabled is enormously time consuming and often frustrating, particularly when dealing with those who are mentally disabled, rather than physically disabled.
It is an individualized art rather than a science.
This is where both Salo and Feuerstein through decades of mastery have developed systems which latch onto the individual and those in the immediate environment and through trial and error simply make it work to its utmost consequence.
Failure is not an option.
In their world, a conscious decision by an Employer to recruit the disabled results in extensive matching activities between the potential pool of employee’s and the job as well as the workplaces. Properly trained Case Officers are assigned who are experts in facilitating the introduction of the candidate into the workplace. Training not only of the candidate takes place but also of co-workers who are developed as a team to embrace this change in the work and social space. Physical and Occupational Therapists are used to ensure that there is sufficient practical accommodation of that workspace. Case Officers remain vigilant and available for a minimum of a year after insertion of the candidate into that workplace.
Bright Employers and Managers know however that there are also many direct and indirect advantages in recruiting people with disabilities. All expenses incurred in facilitating the introduction of people with disabilities into a company are deductible. Tax incentives and rewards are also available in-addition to deductions, designed to encourage such employment. HR Managers know that they will earn as much Affirmative Action recognition against targets as they would in employing people of colour. Additionally the company earns BBBEE points and rating for these activities. The softer intangible rewards are also there. The workplace becomes a better place. It becomes a place of acceptance and a higher level of consciousness. Disabled Employees are amongst the most loyal and committed.
The secret is Strategic Intent. It is about good planning. About seeking the co-operation of Jewish Business working in-concert with Jewish NGO’s and Institutions to jointly own, rather than avoid the challenge of accommodating differently-abled members of our community. It is about wanting to try rather than being smug that in giving charity, other people will take care of the person.
Ultimately the success of this endeavor, is dependent on the systematic desensitization of the social and workplace spaces. We have, as a society to ensure that people with disabilities are not regarded as lepers who must be hidden from our children or placed where they cannot offend our delicate sensitivities. For them to be weaned off of charity, which is becoming harder and harder to find, they have to be mainstreamed wherever possible.
Surely we as a Jewish Community are capable of accomplishing this necessary outcome?