In November, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the Ruderman Inclusion Summit. This was my first time attending, and I was blown away by the number of attendees, the programs and the speakers. I had the honor of meeting with day school representatives and those who support inclusion in Jewish day schools across the country.

 

One of the sessions I attended was a panel discussion. The moderator of the panel was Albert Rizzi. Mr. Rizzi runs an organization called My Blind Spot. His story is compelling, and he is an energetic and passionate speaker. Mr. Rizzi was on a professional journey that had him moving from the world of marketing into the world of education. His journey was halted by an illness that resulted in him waking up and being completely blind. His new mission is “To inspire accessibility for people of ALL abilities.” He opened the session with a simple statement: “Don’t dis my ability” As he stood in front of a large crowd, he challenged us all to teach to others’ abilities. Mr. Rizzi shared that “we all have blind spots in our lives,” we all have both abilities and disabilities; if we teach to people’s abilities, we can help them achieve their ultimate successes.

If we define people by their disabilities, we are limiting the heights they can reach. The environment we create in our spaces dictates the abilities of those who occupy that space.

 

George Couros wrote the following: “I’m often asked if I was to go back into a school as a principal, what would I change first.  My answer is “nothing.”  The first thing I would do now is to create a spreadsheet with every single staff member’s name. To the right of that column I would write the word “Strength.” Until I can identify the strength in every person in that building, nothing changes.  Not only do I have to identify it, but the people I am serving would have to know that I know it.  Then we can move forward and try some new ideas striving toward better opportunities for our students.  If I change things without knowing and showing the value of the people I serve, they feel like they are trying to be “fixed” and nobody wants to feel that way.  If people know they are valued, then it feels like we are trying to help them get better and grow. People will move a lot further with the second option.” What if we changed the mindset? What if we focused on the strengths, as Mr. Couros suggests. What conversations will we inspire? What new goals will be set?

 

The month of February is National Jewish Disability Awareness Month. I encourage you to think about the ideas from both Albert Rizzi and George Couros. How will you recognize the abilities of those around you? How have you celebrated the strengths of your students and the accomplishments of your teachers? What are the stories of success you can share to inspire others? What are the daily messages you send that recognize the strengths in all the members of your community.

Here is my challenge to you: Can you respond using this hashtag #disismyability and share the stories of the abilities you have recognized in your community? Send your stories of celebration and success to me at melaniee@prizmah.org.