By Rachel Delman Turniansky
Coordinator of Special Needs Programs
The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks
Center for Jewish Education
In July of 2010 President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling for the hiring of 100,000 workers with disabilities over five years. A new report from the Government Accountability Office, however, finds that federal agencies are not making enough headway.
“Nearly two years after the executive order was signed, the federal government is not on track to achieve the executive order’s goals,” investigators wrote. The report found that just 20,000 employees with disabilities were hired in 2010 and 2011 in the federal government.
Unemployment in general is significantly higher among individuals with disabilities, at a rate of 12.9 percent as compared to an unemployment rate among individuals without disabilities of 8.1 percent. This is despite the fact that, according to a Harris study, 46 percent of employers reported that people with disabilities actually work harder than non-disabled employees.
Post-high school transition planning for students with identified special needs is a critical process It is important to select programs that are going to offer a means for developing skills for living and working in the community, build competence in activities of daily living and improve academic, pre-vocational, vocational and social skills. There are students in our community who are at this juncture.
Some of these students have been in public special education programs and are transitioning out, or have already transitioned out of the school system. Often the options after public school are not ideal for Jewish individuals. The vocational training programs and workplaces are in secular settings, during times that may directly conflict with Jewish values. In an ideal scenario, these students would be able to learn skills in a community-based program that would strengthen their connection to the Jewish community.
There are also students with special needs who attended Jewish Day schools despite their academic or social challenges. During their school years, accommodations and modifications may have been made to keep them in a Jewish setting. Transitioning into a typical post-high school higher education setting, whether college, yeshiva or seminary, or into the workforce is often not likely to result in success, due to these ongoing challenges.
The Center for Jewish Education, Jewish Community Services, Menucha and Shemesh are partnering with the Community College of Baltimore County to bring a new program to our community. CCBC offers courses through their Special Populations Services that focus on “academic courses, assistance with life skills and pre-vocational and career training designed for individuals with learning differences and disabilities that impact their education.”
Up until now these offerings have only been available to students in a setting outside the Jewish community – either on one of the Baltimore County campuses or through a contracted agency program. We felt that if we can adapt what they’re doing in their programs, we can create a program that fits the needs of Jewish students in the Jewish community.
CCBC’s staff is excited to develop programming that will meet the needs of our community and they have indicated that they can and will be very flexible in creating a program for our students. This includes offering courses at a location within the Jewish community, accommodating the Jewish calendar, maintaining sensitivity to Jewish culture and Jewish values, even hiring qualified instructors from within the Jewish community, if desired.
Based on the feedback from the meeting, there seems to be a lot of interest. Right now we are evaluating the feedback and determining where the strongest interest lies. Things are looking very good for starting at least one class in October. If there’s a demand for more than one, we’d be thrilled. We’re hoping that this is the start of this conversation. We want to work together within the community to help address this issue.
If we, as a country, have a vision of a society that values each individual and provides the opportunity for all people to lead full and productive lives, employing individuals with special needs is vital. Everyone should have the opportunity to be productive, earn a living, and feel a sense of personal fulﬁllment from employment. We need to raise our expectations and understand that abilities outweigh limitations.