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  • Steven Gotfried posted an article
    Author Shares Ways To Confront Disability Bias see more

    Author Shares Ways To Confront Disability Bias

    During the 2022 ECE-RJ Kallah, disability rights activist Emily Ladau provided attendees with tools to help confront disability biases and move beyond low expectations.

    "We have an opportunity as early childhood educators to set the example for the children and families we work with," said Ladau. "Kids learn what they live and develop an understanding of who and what surrounds them."

    The author of  Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally also said, "When we ensure disability-inclusive representation in our classrooms, we foster generations of people who will recognize disability as a natural part of the broader tapestry of humanity."

    Ladau also provided the following list of picture books and a video to teach children to empathize and be comfortable around those with disabilities.

    The Charlie and Emma series, written by a mom with a child with disabilities, is another set of wonderful books to use in a classroom.

    Unite Staff


    February 2022



     February 18, 2022
  • Steven Gotfried posted an article
    Simple Ways to Promote Inclusion Practices in Your Classroom see more

    Simple Ways to Promote Inclusion Practices in Your Classroom

    With approximately 20 percent of the American population having a diagnosed disability, our early childhood classrooms are becoming increasingly inclusive to children with special rights (formerly special needs).  The term “special rights” is very broad and can consist of challenges such as mobility, socialization, regulation and/or cognition.  As the Learning Specialist at Temple Emanu-El, Dallas’ Early Childhood Education Center, I have helped teachers seamlessly integrate children with special rights into their classrooms by developing practices that benefit all children. 

    Sensory Tool Kit
    Everyone, regardless of whether they have a diagnosed sensory processing disorder, requires various sensory stimuli.  Sensory disorders make it difficult to perform academically, socially and physically in typical classrooms.

    To help meet the sensory needs of our young children, each class (Infants through Kindergarten) receives a sensory toolkit at the beginning of the year.  These kits contain age-appropriate items which are used to meet the sensory needs of the children in that class.  When children are upset and need to calm down, they can enlist tools such as breathing balls and liquid bubbles.  If a child requires sensory input while sitting for their morning meeting, they can sit on wiggle cushions or squeeze textured balls. 



    Routines, Routines, Routines
    The dictionary defines a routine as “a sequence of actions regularly followed.” While all children benefit from predictable routines, this is especially true for children with special rights.  To help classrooms create consistent routines and rituals, we have adopted:

    • Picture schedules
    • Transition songs and
    • Visual timers

    All classes utilize picture schedules (with real pictures) to show the children what their day looks like.  Teachers go over the schedule during their meeting time. They explain to the children what will happen throughout the day while referencing the pictures. This allows the children to visualize their schedule and allow them to predict what will happen next.

    This visual helps children understand that activities will not last forever and eventually they will transition to something new. To assist children with transition difficulties, the teacher will reference the schedule frequently throughout the day and give verbal reminders such as “Remember, after outside, we go to music. After music, we get to go back outside!”

    Singing during transitions and waiting times are routines that many of our classes include in their busy days.  Some songs are silly while other songs give children directions for daily activities such as using walking feet in the classroom.

    Time warnings are imperative for smooth transitions between activities.  Because young children don’t have a strong concept of time, Time Timers provide a visual warning in combination with a verbal warning.  Teachers provide time warnings to signal the end of play time, meals or other activities.  While saying, “We have 5 more minutes until we clean up”, the Time Timer is set to five minutes.  A red disc on the timer allows children to watch the time actually disappear.

    Creating a Universal Vocabulary

    Early exposure to individual differences greatly impacts a child’s comfort level around individuals with special rights.  In order to promote continued positive experiences, it is important for adults to encourage curiosity and model positivity. When talking to children about disabilities, keep the following in mind:

    • Focus on similarities.  Typically developing children and children with special rights can share many commonalities.  It is important for children to recognize that everyone has different abilities but may also enjoy similar activities. 
    • Encourage children to ask questions.  Rather than children being afraid of differences, encourage them to ask questions.  If you don’t know an answer, research together!
    • Use respectful language.   Adults can provide very impactful messages to children by choosing their language carefully.  Try replacing the word “normal” with “typical.”  Focus on how adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs and leg braces help people move around, much like the legs of a typically developing child. 
    • Find resources when necessary.  There is an increasing number of books for young children about special rights that can open up conversations. 

    Creating sensory toolkits, establishing consistent classroom routines, and modeling inclusive language are simple ways early childhood educators can promote inclusive practices.  These techniques benefit all children, regardless of diagnoses.   


    By Jessica Frank, Learning Specialist, Temple Emanu-El Dallas

     October 03, 2018
  • ECE-RJ posted an article
    Creating an Inclusive School Environment see more

    Creating an Inclusive School Environment


    Merriam-Webster dictionary defines inclusion as “the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure.” That seems simple enough. Inclusion means to include.

    Yet, when we look at our schools with the intention of being inclusive, it is necessary to expand upon this definition. When you walk into your school, chances are people seem pretty included. Parents are invited into the classrooms, every child is welcomed with a smile, and the teachers are friendly with one another. So, what’s missing? Where is there room for improvement?

    At Temple Beit HaYam Early Childhood Learning Center (Stuart, FL), where I am the inclusion specialist, we knew that in order to define inclusion we first needed to identify what we intended to include. We realized that our goal is to create a school community that is a reflection of the community we live in. We should be teaching with the intention of forming humans who are prepared to interact with the world beyond our school walls. It is important to recognize and celebrate our individuality. At the ECLC, we make an effort to provide books, toys, and materials that reflect people of different religions, family dynamics, beliefs, races, and cultural backgrounds. In our school you will find:

    • Multiple languages- We include Spanish, Hebrew, and ASL in our regular instruction. You might see these and other languages represented in books, in art, through conversation or in songs/music. We have teachers who speak Spanish, French, Hebrew, German, and ASL, and we encourage them to use their linguistic knowledge to enrich their classroom experiences.
    • Diverse races, ethnicities, and cultures- The books, dolls, and pictures that children interact with on a daily basis represent people of various skin colors, ethnicities and cultures. We provide paper, paint, markers, and crayons that represent a variety of skin tones. When celebrating Jewish holidays, we discuss similar holidays celebrated in other cultures. We explore the values and traditions of various cultures through music, stories, art, and games.
    • People of varied abilities- In our classrooms you will find books, art, and toys that represent people in wheelchairs, people who are blind, people with absent or prosthetic limbs, and other people with varied physical abilities.
    • Differential instruction- We realize that children are unique humans, and they learn in unique ways. Lessons in our school are taught using a variety of methods. We engage the children in art, physical activity, and games. We use print materials, visual representations, and songs. When reading a story, we may ask the children to act out parts or use puppets. We may use sign language or hand movements when learning a new song. We foster curiosity and encourage children to ask questions.

    Creating a Space
    At the ECLC, we recognized that some of our students have needs that weren’t being met in their traditional classroom, so we teamed up with our temple’s youth group to re-imagine a space that was not getting much use- the youth lounge.

    We applied for funding from local and state agencies in order to supply the necessary equipment, and we collaborated with behavioral and occupational therapists on how to best utilize this space.

    Many people we introduced the concept to became excited and engaged in the project. Together, we designed a space that supports differential instruction. It is a space where children can regulate their sensory input, spend one-on-one time with Occupational therapists and other support staff.  The children can use specialized equipment, such as a sensory swing, balance board, and stepping stones. This room, that we have since dubbed the Learning Lounge, is now a space that allows us to cater to the varied needs of our children.

    Learning from Others
    One of the most important things that I have learned in my role as inclusion specialist is the importance of collaborating with others. We are informed by our experiences. We see through our eyes. It is easy when introducing a project such as this to get wrapped up in your own ideas. Be wary. Do not attempt to create inclusion within a vacuum. Invite other eyes. Bring other people’s ideas to the table. The more people you include in the project, the more inclusive your school will become.

    Mia Kaiser,
    ECLC Inclusion Specialist
    Temple Beit HaYam, Stuart, FL

     October 03, 2018
  • ECE-RJ posted an article
    Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation Inclusive see more

    Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation Inclusive

    In my work coaching synagogues toward increased inclusion for people of all abilities, I spend a lot of time exploring organizational change. One of the things professionals and lay leaders ask most often is some version of this: “How do we change the culture of our community to one where individual members recognize and value inclusion?” 

    Inclusion can seem overwhelming for a community that has not previously made accommodations or offered opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Organizational culture change is a complex process that demands a clear vision and a focused leadership team committed to create, anchor, and support change over time. In other words, it is anything but a “quick fix.” Nevertheless, even small steps can have a tremendous impact. Start small, but start somewhere.

    Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive:

    1. Identify the key stakeholders.
    of people with disabilities is not a one-person job. While one person can light a spark, no one person can change the culture of a synagogue alone. Assemble a core group of professionals and lay people. Include someone with disabilities and/or the parent of a child with disabilities.

    2.  Recognize that inclusion is about changing a culture.
    Culture change is a process. Recognize that you have embarked on a long-term endeavor and that the process itself can and will be as significant as the destination.

    3. Articulate a Vision
    While there are many tools to facilitate a visioning process, most synagogues already have a Vision or Mission Statement. Ensure that the synagogue's vision includes a statement of inclusion of people of all abilities.

    4. Conduct a Self-Assessment
    There are a number of great tools for self-assessment available online or from local Federations. UJA-Federation of New York offers the Synagogue Inclusion Inventory. Such tools are designed to help identify areas of strength and provide ideas for new areas of growth as you work to become more inclusive of people with disabilities.

    5. Set Goals
    This is an opportunity to dream. Make a list of everything you want to do in both the short-term and long-term. Do not place limits by discussing what may not be possible at this stage.

    6. Identify “Low-Hanging Fruit”
    Identify the “simple” changes that can be made. This may involve such things as adding signage, moving items to be more visible, or doing other things considered “easy” in your community. Initial success sets the stage to continue the forward momentum.

    7. Prioritize Goals
    Explore other goals from #5 above and discuss what is realistic and possible in the short-term and what must be tabled for a later point in time. This is most frequently the place where congregations get stuck. Ideally, choose 3-5 goals to act upon, but if you must choose only one to enable movement forward, do that.

    8. Get Help
    If one of your stakeholders is not a professional in the disability world, this is the time to explore bringing in a consultant. And if one of your stakeholders does not have a disability and/or a child with a disability, here is the place to find someone who can share that perspective. Your goals will help to determine if you should seek an architect, an educator, a lawyer, etc.

    9. Share
    Let the rest of the congregation know about your efforts. Changing a culture requires transparency and support; keeping your work a “secret” until a program or event is “ready” is a mistake. Inclusion is not about an isolated program, it is about relationships. Invite others into your conversations.

    10. Reflect and repeat

    Turn your goal into action, build in opportunities for assessment and reflection, and then do it all again.

    Keep at it. Disability inclusion requires intentionality, dedication, and perseverance. Inclusion is not a person or a place or a program; inclusion is a mindset, a way of thinking, and it needs to be who we are as much as it is what we do. It can be hard work, but it is work that is important, meaningful, and satisfying.


    Lisa Friedman is a widely recognized expert in Jewish Disability Inclusion. She is an Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Central New Jersey where she has developed and oversees an inclusive synagogue school. She is also the Project Manager of UJA-Federation of New York’s Synagogue Inclusion Project. Lisa consults with congregations, schools, camps, and other organizations to guide them in the development of inclusive practices for staff, clergy, and families through dialogue, interactive workshops, and awareness training. Lisa is a sought after speaker on a wide variety of topics and blogs about disabilities and inclusion at Removing the Stumbling Block.

     October 03, 2018