By Nikki Turner, NFTY-SW Inclusion Chair in recognition of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM)
At this past NFTY-SW Winter Kallah , we worked together to raise awareness about silent disabilities and ways we, as a NFTY region and as individuals, can be better allies to those with silent disabilities. Silent disabilities describe people who have challenges that can be medical, emotional or cognitive, affecting their ability to function. However, there is no visible effect of their disability, so often people around them have no idea of any issues. A few examples are: diabetes, arthritis, migraines, anxiety, depression, and dyslexia, to name only a few.
We went through an exercise that we adapted from a blog post on butyoudontlooksick.com by Christine Miserandino. Her original blog post is called “the spoon theory” where she used spoons as a way to describe how much energy someone has to use before they have to stop and rest, sometimes for the rest of the day. Instead of spoons, we used candy.
We gave everyone a certain number of pieces of candy representing the amount of energy and ability to complete tasks you have during the day. We went through each daily task and each task the person chose to complete cost them a piece of candy including getting out of bed, making breakfast, answering texts and brushing teeth. The exercise showed that the everyday choices that we make can be a true struggle for someone with a disability, not by choice, but by the fact of the challenges they face. Even something many people take for granted, answering a text, cost a piece of candy.
We then took this new awareness to come up with a list of dos and don’ts to better support those with disabilities to help make NFTY the most welcoming and inclusive community for all who want to participate, regardless of abilities and challenges.
Be aware – notice when someone is uncomfortable
Make sure there are options – help someone move to someplace less stressful
Be kind – show you care – reach out – invite them in
Keep an open mind – ask what would be helpful and help in a way that is comfortable to them
Respect their routine and the individual needs of the person
Be patient and be flexible
ASK and Listen
Watch your language – both verbal and non-verbal
Believe them and believe in them
Get to know them as people- look past the disability but accommodate their needs respectfully and discretely
Be an Advocate. Help raise awareness to support those with silent disabilities.
Don’t limit what someone is saying and don’t question their experiences
Don’t get frustrated or take it personally when they are out of “candy”.
Don’t judge or belittle someone’s needs
Don’t assume – there is no way to fully know what someone is going through or what they can and cannot do
Don’t exclude them
Don’t force or make someone feel bad or less than because of their needs
Don’t ignore them
Don’t make fun or call names
Don’t treat them differently or baby them
Don’t use their disability against them or use their disability to benefit you