BY JENN DIRECTOR KNUDSEN
Jewish Family & Child Service’s TASK program has hit its stride in the pandemic. TASK stands for Treasuring, Accepting, Supporting Kehillah (community) and is the name behind JFCS’ Disability Support Services.
Serving all those in the greater community who are differently abled, TASK quickly moved its services online more than a year ago and is implementing plans for much more in the virtual space as COVID-19 sticks around.
TASK’s success is primarily twofold. It created and hired a disabilities coordinator, and its team is bulking up programs and community resources, especially for children.
“How do you take an in-person experience and put it online?” Shayna Sigman asks rhetorically. “Anything you can do in person, you can do online; you just have to get creative about it.”
Sigman, an MSW, is JFCS’ new disabilities coordinator, and she and colleagues Sarit Cahana and Disabilities Program Manager Janet Menashe are expanding community through a Zoom lens. Sigman splits her time between TASK and JFCS’ intake program.
TASK runs two support groups; both have room for more participants from the community who would benefit from accessing them. Coming Together is for parents and caregivers of children of all ages with disabilities, and TIKVAH is for people with disabilities who are ages 18 and older.
Sigman says she knows parents whose children are differently abled – for instance, those who have cerebral palsy, are sight- and hearing-impaired, or struggle with mental-health issues like anxiety, depression and challenges associated with the Autism Spectrum Disorder – and need support from peers who are also in their often overtaxed shoes.
“To be with other people who both get it and have shared experiences is important and also allows them to form social connections of their own,” says Sigman of the parents and caregivers.
One boon of Zoom is that everyone sees one another at the same time; when gathering in person, too often conversations are relegated to one on one.
Sigman adds, “I’m a camp person (having worked at B’nai B’rith Camp), so I’ll always add some games to our activities.” Those games might include the collaborative online tool Jamboard and interactive miming games.
For the TIKVAH social group, Sigman and Cahana, JFCS’ disabilities advocate, milk Zoom for all it offers. Live Transcripts, like subtitles in foreign films so hearing-impaired participants can fully take part, is a Zoom feature, and easy-read documents provide instructions for program use in brass-tacks language and pictures.
“And this is where Zoom backgrounds come in as well, serving as another way to communicate,” such as how to access instructions and how to run an icebreaker, says Cahana.
Sigman uses a Zoom background with three pictorials on it: the very familiar “Hello, my name is ___” sticker; a person with its hand raised; and a megaphone.
Sigman said each of these visual cues would help anyone through an online gathering, indicating how one signifies that they are speaking, that they have something to add, and to remember to speak loudly and clearly.
“We’re not doing this only for people with disabilities, it helps everybody,” she says.
She continues, “If you make one change, it can help tons of people, not solely an individual. I just want to make everything as accessible and inclusive to people as possible, inside and outside JFCS.”
Inclusion includes the youngest members of the community. Sigman’s professional docket comprises building children’s services into TASK’s expanding offerings and being the community go-to for resources, such as guiding parents through school systems and Jewish life for children who need accommodations.
“Picture Shabbat services that would be more accessible” online and in person, she says. If online, Live Transcripts would be enabled; volume controls would ensure event noise is not over-stimulating; and an interpreter, say, for American Sign Language, would be available.
Sigman, Cahana and Menashe all emphasize JFCS is here to provide guidance, education, materials and resources to the community, not solely its program participants.
“That’s why we’re here, after all,” Cahana said.
For more information, visit jfcs-portland.org/services/disability-support-services or contact Menashe at 971-295-0942 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the support groups, contact Sigman at email@example.com.
TASK Inclusion Resources
“Everyone wants to be accepted,” says Shayna Sigman, JFCS’ new disabilities coordinator. “We want people with disabilities – children and adults alike – to be a central part of our community.”
JFCS’ Disability Services, known as TASK, does the following:
• Helps and partners with other Jewish organizations to be more accessible in person and online
• Serves as the community resource that advocates for disability education (for staffs and clients alike)
• Advocates and administers job support for individuals with disabilities
• Provides grocery and prescription medications pickup, food for holidays (Passover and Thanksgiving) and fresh challah from the Challahman
• Helps navigate systems like Social Security, Medicaid and schools’ offerings such as individual educational plans and the transitions between online, hybrid and in-person education.