Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

Do Jews have disabilities?  Of course we do!  They may be hidden disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder mental illness, learning disabilities (5 to 15% of the population) or language processing difficulties (try learning Hebrew when you’re struggling to handle English!). They could be more visible disorders such as cerebral palsy, a developmental disability such as Down’s syndrome, visual impairment, muscular dystrophy, or multiple sclerosis.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 18% of all children have enhanced health-care needs, a number we see in the Jewish community as well.  The fact is Jews have as equal an opportunity to have a disability as anyone else. 

Historically, we may have hidden our disabilities from one another, but we do currently acknowledge that people with disabilities are part of the Jewish community, and we’re more inclusive of our whole population than ever before.  We’ve celebrated the b’nai mitzvoth of a generation of young people with special needs, including some who are deaf or unable to speak, incorporating creative adaptations of the reading of the Torah, an oral tradition.

Treatment for Mental Illness

A surprising 23% of adults aged 18 and over experience a mental disorder in any given year, according to former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher.  They may be temporary, such as with situational depression, or they may be longer lasting, such as schizophrenia, an anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder. 

According to Kaiser Health News, 10% of college students seek help from counseling centers each year. As the stigma of mental illness slowly lessens, more people are receiving the treatment that is readily available to promote their wellness.  It’s important to note that of the people that Jewish Family & Child Service (JFCS) serves with an intellectual or developmental disability, over half are dually diagnosed with a mental illness.  

JFCS’s TASK Program

JFCS has provided services to people with disabilities in the Portland area through its TASK {Treasuring, Accepting, and Supporting Kehillah [community]} program since 1998.  TASK has been a strong advocate for people with disabilities, participating in dialogue and advocacy in a variety of ways, including providing testimony at legislative committees. But TASK is not just for people with disabilities; it’s also for the community to learn how to be more welcoming and inclusive of all its populations.

Tikvah, a service of TASK, is a social and recreational program for adults with any type of disability.  The focus is not on the disability, but on the fun and interaction in the community that members enjoy. Currently there are 22 active Tikvah participants. Tikvah has been such a part of strengthening bonds in the community that we can even boast a successful marriage between two members.  The bi-monthly TASK newsletter is distributed to more than 250 individuals and organizations, acting as a ‘Jewish link’ in providing up-to-date information on resources and events in the community.
Learn more about TASK here.

JFCS’s Partners for Independence Program


Following the success of TASK and our commitment to offering services that would prepare people with disabilities for a more independent life, JFCS developed the Partners for Independence program, launched in early 2011. Through relationships with local support services brokerages, Partners provides state-certified support services to adults with developmental disabilities. Services include independent living skills, social skills, formal assessments, and behavioral supports. 

Staff work with more than 60 clients annually to help them achieve individual goals such as securing sustainable housing, reducing debt, building a social network, finding parenting supports, reducing destructive behavior, increasing communication, finding and maintaining employment, and the hundreds of other skills involved in daily living that many of us who don’t require support take for granted. 

Remaining true to JFCS’s mission, Partners provides services within a context of Jewish values, helping people to help themselves. Since inception, Partners has remained the only program of its kind that offers cultural competency to the Jewish population, and that can introduce the broader Portland community to the values and services of JFCS, in true adherence to our commitment to providing wraparound social services. 

Cedar Sinai Park and JFCS’s Kehillah Housing Project

JFCS has partnered with Cedar Sinai Park to develop, design, and construct Kehillah Housing and support services. An advisory group made up of TASK participants and their families also provided input about the project’s design, including construction and services. The generosity of the Jewish community as well as private foundations and federal HUD dollars is making this long-time dream a reality. 

Scheduled to open its doors on the Cedar Sinai Park campus to residents in late 2013, Kehillah Housing will provide long-term independent living to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Residents of Kehillah Housing will enjoy a social community, classes and training on daily living skills, and recreational activities organized with the help of JFCS. The building will have 14 accessible, one-bedroom apartments, and an on-site resident manager. This ground-breaking effort incorporates Jewish values and culture along with community support services that will empower residents to live as independently as possible.




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