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Jewish Coalition Mobilizes for Restoration of Rights for Americans with Disabilities

Contact Sean Thibault and Kate Bigam
news@rac.org | 202.387.2800

WASHINGTON, February 6, 2008 – Representatives of Jewish organizations will meet today with key House members to advocate for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Restoration Act of 2007. The bill addresses the erosion of workplace protections for individuals with disabilities, which has occurred since the original legislation was passed in 1990.  

Members of the Jewish Disability Network, a coalition of more than 20 organizations established in 2007 by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and United Jewish Communities, will specifically target members of the four committees with jurisdiction over the bill.  A letter signed by 60 national, state and local Jewish organizations urging the bill’s enactment was sent on Wednesday to all members of Congress. The full text of the letter follows this release.

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Adviser on Disabilities at the Religious Action Center, and a survivor of a debilitating Traumatic Brain Injury, will be among those meeting with members of Congress. Rabbi Landsberg noted, “Leviticus 19:14 teaches us ‘not to place a stumbling block before the blind.’  There can be no clearer message that we have an obligation to ensure equal access for all.”
 
Despite the passage of the ADA in 1990, courts have so narrowly interpreted the law that individuals challenging disability-based discrimination have lost a staggering 97% of cases.  The ADA Restoration Act would ensure those with conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, hearing loss, learning disabilities and psychiatric disabilities are protected under anti-discrimination law.  

William Daroff, United Jewish Communities’ vice president for public policy and director of its Washington office, said, “This legislation takes a crucial step in raising the bar for protection from discrimination of persons with disabilities and in fulfilling the intention of the original legislation. We need our elected officials to turn this bill into law immediately.”
 
The Jewish leaders will meet with members of the House Education and Labor Committee, Judiciary Committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, all of which will be considering the legislation.

###

Speaking as a unified Jewish voice on Capitol Hill, the Jewish Disability Network addresses and advocates on behalf of legislation affecting individuals with disabilities. Member organizations are the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, United Jewish Communities, Anti-Defamation League, Association of Jewish Aging Services of North America, Association of Jewish Family & Children's Agencies, B'nai B'rith International, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Hillel: The Jewish Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, International Association of Jewish Vocational Services, JCC Association of North America, The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Family & Children's Service of Minneapolis, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, Jewish Social Service Agency, National Council of Jewish Women, Orthodox Union, Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning, Syracuse Jewish Family Service, Inc., The Amit Program, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, UJA-Federation of New York and Yad HaChazakah: The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center.


February 6, 2008

Dear Member of Congress:

As concerned Jewish organizations committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, we urge Congress to pass the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 (H.R. 3195/S. 1881). This bill is essential to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and to correct the rollback of civil rights which has occurred since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. As this bipartisan bill moves through Congress, we strongly encourage you to give it your full support.

The ADA promised to be a vital means of protecting the livelihoods of people with disabilities who faced discrimination. Since the enactment courts have narrowed the definition of disability to the point that the law often harms the very individuals it was designed to protect. The ADA Restoration Act would attempt to close loopholes in the ADA’s workplace provisions by clearly redefining the term “disability” to apply to any individual with a real or perceived physical or mental impairment. The definition of disability, which would restore clear Congressional intent, would ensure that individuals with conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, hearing loss, learning disabilities, or psychiatric disabilities who utilize “mitigating measures” such as prescription drugs, prosthetics, and hearing aids, will be protected under the legislation. To encourage the courts to stop construing disability legislation narrowly in a way that defies the spirit of the law, the bill states that its provisions should be broadly construed to advance their remedial purpose.

The Torah teaches us that the stamp of the Divine is present in each of us, regardless of physical or mental ability. Exodus 4:10-11 reads, “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” Furthermore, Jewish tradition teaches us of our obligation to ensure equal access for all people and to help facilitate the full participation of individuals with disabilities in our communities. As we read in Leviticus 19:14, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.”

The right to earn a livelihood without fear of discrimination is one that should be unquestionably granted to all Americans, regardless of physical or mental disability. We urge you to show your support for equal rights by co-sponsoring and supporting the ADA Restoration Act of 2007. If you have any questions about the legislation or this letter, please contact Kate Bigam at (202) 387-2800 or Amy Aarons Rosen at (202) 736-5871.

Sincerely,

The Union for Reform Judaism

United Jewish Communities

And the following organizations:

National:

  • American Conference of Cantors
  • American Jewish Committee
  • Anti-Defamation League
  • Association of Jewish Aging Services of North America
  • Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies
  • B’nai B’rith International
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • International Association of Jewish Vocational Services
  • Jewish Council for Public Affairs
  • Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
  • KESHER: URJ College Department
  • Men of Reform Judaism
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • North American Federation of Temple Youth
  • The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • Women of Reform Judaism
  • Yad HaChazakah — The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Inc.


State:

  • Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations
  • Ohio Jewish Communities
  • Wisconsin Jewish Conference


Local:

  • Bronstein Jewish Family Service (Southbury, CT)
  • Council for Jewish Elderly (Chicago, IL)
  • Greater Bridgeport Section, NCJW, Inc. (Greater Bridgeport, CT)
  • JEVS Human Services (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Jewish Child and Family Services (Chicago, IL)
  • Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (Greater Washington, DC)
  • Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona (Tucson, AZ)
  • Jewish Family and Community Services (Jacksonville, FL)
  • Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Boston (Boston, MA)
  • Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Minneapolis (Minneapolis, MN)
  • Jewish Family and Children's Services of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (San Francisco, CA)
  • Jewish Family and Children's Services of the East Bay (Berkley, CA) Jewish Family and Vocational Service (Louisville, KY)
  • Jewish Family Service (Houston, TX)
  • Jewish Family Service (San Diego, CA)
  • Jewish Family Service (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
  • Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County (Buffalo, NY)
  • Jewish Family Service of Seattle (Seattle, WA)
  • Jewish Family Service of the Desert (Palm Springs, CA)
  • Jewish Family Services of Worcester (Worcester, MA)
  • Jewish Family Services (Danbury, CT)
  • Jewish Family Services of York (York, PA)
  • Jewish Federation of Broward County Community Relations Committee (Broward County, FL)
  • Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (Chicago, IL)
  • Jewish Vocational Service and Employment Center (Chicago, IL)
  • Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest (East Orange, NJ)
  • Jewish Vocational Services of the San Francisco Bay Area (San Francisco, CA)
  • The Merrimack Valley Jewish Federation (Andover, MA)
  • Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (New York, NY)
  • Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations (Milwaukee, WI)
  • National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis Section (St. Louis, MO)
  • National Council of Jewish Women, Brooklyn Section (New York, NY)
  • Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning (Greater Washington, DC)
  • Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service (Boca Raton, FL)
  • Shaare Tefila Congregation (Silver Spring, MD)
  • Sinai Health System (Chicago, IL)
  • Syracuse Jewish Family Service, Inc. (Syracuse, NY)
  • The Keshet Organization (Chicago, IL)
  • The Amit Program, Inc. (Atlanta, GA)
  • UJA-Federation of NY (New York, NY)



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