Hundreds Come Together for 14th Annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day

Nearly 650 people attended Jewish Federations of North America’s annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day earlier this week. 

The virtual event, co-led by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, featured updates about the Supplemental Security Income Penalty Elimination Act legislation and panels that ranged in discussion from concerns over accessible voting practices to how Judaism affected their outlook on having a disability. 

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, kicked off the meeting by emphasizing the importance of working together to enhance Jewish belonging. 

“We are so proud that once again this program is the result of a coalition of a number of organizations from across the country and across the world that have joined in support of Jewish Disability Advocacy Day,” Fingerhut said. “The support of all the partners means so much to us and of course we all understand that the work of advocacy is the work of many, many people and many, many contributions. The more we have, the more effective we’re going to be.” 

The event included a video message from U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), lead Senate Republican sponsor of the first bipartisan, bicameral push for passage of the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, which updates SSI’s asset limits for the first time since the 1980s to ensure individuals with a disability and older adults can prepare themselves for emergencies without putting their benefits at risk. 

“Someone who is disabled shouldn’t have to choose between a better job or losing their safety net because of outdated rules,” Cassidy said. “The SSI program hasn’t been updated in nearly 40 years and it punishes Americans with disabilities if they try to save for emergencies or to improve their future, whatever their future might be.” 

The legislation, co-led by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), is an “easy fix” for an out-of-date law. 

“It allows people to work. It allows people to save. It lifts people out of poverty. A trifecta if you will,” said Cassidy, who expressed gratitude to Jewish Federations of North America for their advocacy on the issue. 

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Illinois), lead sponsor of the House version of the bill, called the current SSI law “one of the most regressive anti-savings measures in federal law.” 

“I applaud your efforts to work with both liberal and conservative organizations to build bipartisan support for this bill. That support lays the foundation for successful enactment of this important legislation,” Davis said. 

Many panelists raised concerns over voting accessibility as well as how campaigns communicated with the disabled community. 

One panelist said that in the last presidential election, they had to wait in line for about 90 minutes in Philadelphia.  

Though mail-in ballots are options, there can still be hurdles to access for people with disabilities, such as having to fill out complex paperwork correctly or risk their application being rejected. The fact that the process is different state by state is another obstacle, one panelist said, adding that uniform rules would make it easier for everyone. 

The panel also discussed how voters with neurodivergent disabilities are often overlooked during election season, particularly when receiving candidate platform materials. Often, they are designed in a way that overwhelms those affected by neurodivergence. 

The panel also offered advice to candidates and campaigns: consider your format and design before sending out materials. 

Davis lauded Jewish Disability Advocacy Day for working to improve the lives of people with disabilities.  

“The most secure have the ability to pay for their voices to be heard, so I applaud your choice to dedicate your time to focus on attention on the center nature of disability rights,” Davis said. 

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