High school students at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore participated in an intensive two-day disabilities awareness experience on Nov. 13-14. They explored the challenges people with physical, emotional, hidden, and overt disabilities face on a daily basis through the program, which gave students access to people living with disabilities as well as professionals at organizations providing services to people with disabilities. Disabilities Awareness Club student co-chairs Kayla P. ‘18 and Lindsey R. ‘18, along with Rachel Levitt Klein, director of high school student life at Beth Tfiloh, spearheaded the program.
Students participated in simulations to help them understand what the world is like for people with disabilities and learned how to advocate for disability rights. Then they watched a presentation and basketball demonstration by The Israel Sports Center for the Disabled para-athletes. One of the presenters was Sara Portman Milner of Sunflower Bakery and Café, a business Kol HaBirah spotlighted in a February 2017 article (“At Sunflower Bakery, Cookies Can Lead to Careers for Young Adults with Learning Differences”).
Through Disability Awareness Program workshops, students learned about the basics of Braille and sign language, discovered how certified therapy animals help patients achieve therapeutic goals, and heard about the on-the-job skills training Sunflower Bakery and Café provides for young adults with learning differences. Students discussed cognitive and psychological disorders, and talked about the body image issues people with physical disabilities experience. They also saw demonstrations of assistive devices.
Following the workshops, the presenters offered their thoughts on how to create a more inclusive community in a panel discussion for students and faculty.
“We can’t let the conversation stop here,” said Lindsey R. “Now that we have this foundation, we need to use it to keep building our awareness, acceptance, and inclusion.”
This conversation is already ongoing throughout the Beth Tfiloh community. Middle school students volunteer for Yachad, helping to promote inclusion for Jewish children and adults with disabilities, while students of all ages volunteer for Chai Lifeline, bringing joy to seriously ill children and their families.
“Throughout the curriculum, we find opportunities to expand children’s sensitivities to people with disabilities or special needs,” said Beth Tfiloh Director of Education Dr. Zipora Schorr, noting the range of speakers and volunteer opportunities woven into the student experience at the school.
During a student-led session about autism, the presenter, who is on the autism spectrum, was asked what the Beth Tfiloh community could do to make him more comfortable and inclusive.
“Everything is perfect here,” he responded. “Just keep treating me the way you treat me.”
By Rina Goloskov
Rina Goloskov is assistant director of communications at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore.