By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to lead a training with my colleague Dr. Beth Rosenwasser of JCHAI (a non-profit organization that offers a variety of support services for people with developmental disabilities) for docents at NMAJH. We discussed how to welcome and provide support for people with disabilities who come to the Museum. We began our training by asking participants to think about someone they know personally who has a disability—and to share what they have learned from this person.
I use this activity in many of the trainings that I lead as Director of Jewish Learning Venture’s “Whole Community Inclusion” and have found that this question invites thoughtful conversation. Participants share stories about people they have known in their schools and synagogues or in their own families, and sometimes identify their own disabilities, which may not necessarily be visible. At least 1 in 5 people in our country have a physical, cognitive, emotional, or learning disability or some combination of disabilities—and yet, many of us have not had opportunities to consider what valuable life lessons we can take away from people in our community who live with disability.
In part, I believe this to be the case because too often, especially in the case of people with intellectual disabilities, there still exists so much separation and segregation. Children and teens in schools don’t often get to interact with their peers who spend the day in self-contained autism support or life skills classrooms; when those individuals graduate from school and enter the work force, it may be in a sheltered workshop rather than in a community setting. While many of our synagogues and Jewish organizations are working hard to better welcome and support students with learning differences, our community has all too often forgotten adults with disabilities who live in group homes or institutional settings.
I am delighted that NMAJH is making a commitment to accessibility and inclusion. In addition to the docent training, we are holding a Sensory-Friendly Access Event on February 20, Presidents’ Day, that will invite families whose children need quiet, calm settings to experience an art activity, story, and short tour of the Museum. Everyone is welcome!
And, the public is invited to a community panel and book discussion about Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the 2017 selection for One Book, One Philadelphia, on February 28 in partnership with the Museum, Jewish Learning Venture, and JCHAI. The event coincides with
opening night of the Tony-award winning musical at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. In this popular novel, a young teenager with autism sets out to learn who murdered his neighbor’s dog, but ends up learning more about himself and his community.
The panel discussion will focus on how we can all be more welcoming and accessible to people with autism. It will feature autism self-advocates, including Lauren Gross, Museum Educator and Admissions Associate from NMAJH.
I am always happy to talk with families or organizations; please contact me!
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall.