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Inclusion Is More than About Access

02/09/2023 11:34:04 AM


Anne Cohen

As long as I can remember I have had two core parts of my identity, being Jewish and having a disability. Both have shaped my vision of myself and how I navigate the world. Growing up with learning and physical disabilities, both diagnosed in childhood, grounded my concepts of success, community, patience, and resilience, and built my career in health policy and social services. It also left embedding fears, fears not all that dissimilar from the wounds left by the generational trauma of being Jewish in a hostile world. As a woman with disabilities, I have fought against societal programming that the very things that are at the core of my being will lead to a lack of opportunities, in not only employment but the worthiness of love and my capabilities to be a mother. These messages have forged a fierce sense of independence while being keenly aware of my vulnerabilities and my need to plan around them. This is far more exhausting than any aspect of my health. 

Indeed, Covid made all of us vulnerable and for the first time everyone knew what many people with disabilities have always known; flexible work environments that are mindful of capacity and assistance from other kept our world from total collapse. It is unfortunate that it took a global pandemic for the world to see what we have been asking for decades.

Disability and Judaism have similar joys and struggles. In the modern tradition of, Tikkun Olam, we are taught to heal the world - Jewish identity sustained through social justice. We survived so we must help other thrive. Disability identity took on a similar approach during the civil rights movement, whereby our bodies and minds are not the problems, it is the systematic barriers in the physical environment and programmatic barriers in how services are delivered that hold people back from thriving in the community. We deserve to thrive not just survive. Like our Jewish ancestors who thrived despite persecution building prosperous communities; people with disabilities have had to forge a path navigating complex economic and societal oppression, forming rich cultural identities. These communities are rooted in the bay area, and I am fortunate to have known many of it's leaders.

Disability Inclusion month is about recognizing that Jewish people and people with disabilities have faced similar path in shaping our identity. Both of our existences are seen as threatening economic opportunities for other and our success is seen because of undeserved assistance, or advantages rooted in the association as a group. Instead of recognizing our success based on perseverance and a strong sense of identity. This month is also about 

is also about recognizing our own privileges, physical, emotional, mental, economic, racial, etc. that provide us the capacity to navigate the world with ease, where others may not have the same systematic opportunities.  How can we assist in identifying these barriers and contributing to the systematic removal and /or adaption of how the world operates?  How can we do this without making others feel like an object of pity or inspiration?   For me, a core part of being Jewish is knowing our history and how I choose to leave my own impact on the world.  This month make a commitment to learning about Jewish leaders with disabilities and how they have changed society.  I live by the idea of “never forget,” and hope the ones we have lost, that their memories may be a blessing.

Judy Heumann, Civil Right Leader  

Jim Lebrech, Film Maker, 

Denise Jacobson, Author, and Civil Rights Leader 

May Their Memories be a Blessing

Marilyn Golden, Civil Right Leader 

Hale Zukas, Civil Rights Leader 

Neil Marcus, Actor and Dancer 


Anne Cohen has a form of muscular dystrophy called Myasthenia Gravis. She first developed symptoms at the age of eight and had to navigate the complexities of the health care system for over 10 years before she was diagnosed. Her experiences in navigating the complexities of the health care system and identifying providers to deliver quality care has made her an advocate for people with disabilities. As a disability advocate, she emphasizes working within the health care system to empower consumers to have a direct impact on the delivery of care.   As a disability and health policy consultant she has over 25 years of experience in the disability field and has served in a variety of sectors promoting access to services for individuals with disabilities.  She serves on the board of DREDF, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.  DREDF is dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development. 

Ms. Cohen has a Master of Public Health degree in Health Policy and Administration, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Science from Portland State University, Portland, Oregon.   She has a wonderful son Zyler Millet who is passionate about technology, animals, and CBJ.

Sat, June 22 2024 16 Sivan 5784