Helping children make sense of disability
Jewish News, England
By: FRANCINE WOLFISZ
We look at how British Friends of ALEH is helping educate youngsters during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month
Inside the hall at Akiva School, a group of 28 pupils meticulously pick up cotton wool balls from a bowl with a spoon and move them to another bowl on their heads.
That would be challenge enough for most dextrous seven-year-olds, but today they are facing the added obstacle of having to do it blindfolded, as part of a creative workshop about what it feels like to live with a disability.
Some children laugh as the balls miss their intended target, some just keep going before giving up, while others reach a point of frustration and pull away their blindfolds.
“It must be really hard not being able to see,” concludes Betsy. “I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t do it,” admits Oliver, but it was Sophia who perhaps made the most poignant observation.
“I didn’t feel included, because I couldn’t see what was happening around me,” she tells me.
The session is just one of several creative activities organised by British Friends of ALEH for its campaigning Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), which runs until the end of February.
Earlier this month, teenagers from Project ImpACT teamed up with service users from Kisharon to design campaign posters for JDAIM, and inclusive tea parties were held throughout the community. Next week, the Jewish Learning Exchange will host a sensory dinner for young professionals.
Still a relatively new concept, JDAIM was launched in the UK last year as a way of encouraging communal organisations to spread greater awareness about disability and inclusion.
This year, British Friends of ALEH, which supports one of Israel’s largest providers of residential care for disabled children and young adults, is focused on taking out that message to schools and youth groups as a way of educating young people and celebrating diversity.
On the day of my visit to Akiva School in Finchley, British Friends of ALEH director, Liron Rosiner Reshef, is leading a workshop for Year 3 students, which, apart from the cotton wool ball challenge, features short clips from the 2017 film Wonder, about a boy born with facial deformities, and an advert for the Paralympics.
Both prove inspirational talking points for the workshop, devised from the charity’s new education programme, Bechinuch, which aims to “create a more caring world”.
The programme is an offshoot of ALEH’s Tikkun Olam programme in Israel, which, since 2016, has educated young people about inclusivity and inspired more than 100,000 students to become disability advocates.
Liron is pleased by the youngsters’ responses to her workshop. “I felt inspired,” she says. “I’m optimistic for the future and that the next generation will know about these things.”
She adds: “JDAIM is about bringing this issue into our minds and thinking about the most vulnerable in our community. We are all aware that it is challenging to have a disability, but how many of us stop to think about how it feels?
“How many of us reflect on the lessons we ourselves can learn from people with disabilities, about their persistence, their creativity in solving problems, their resilience? Through education, we can help to change perceptions about disability and, in that way, change society.”