Disability as lifelong marathon

Those maimed in the Boston bombings face daunting obstacles, including our failure to accommodate people with disabilities

Jeff Bauman is on my mind.

One week ago, two brothers carried out a despicable attack in Boston. Their targets were innocent civilians, marathon runners, fans, by-standers and local law enforcement officials. Their goal was to kill, hurt and maim. And unfortunately, they succeeded.

The foundation I represent is unique in the philanthropic world as we have headquarters both in Israel and in Boston. Living in Israel, terrorist attacks have unfortunately become part and parcel of life here. As soon as news breaks, we text everyone we know, constantly refresh news sites, wait for the latest updates.

But frantic phone calls to staff in Boston, ensuring people are OK, waiting for family members to check in overseas, was a surreal experience. Upside down, in fact. This hit close to home, 6,000 miles away.

Jeff Bauman lost both legs below the knee at the Boston Marathon  bombing, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)
Jeff Bauman lost both legs below the knee at the Boston Marathon bombing, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)

Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the attack, and the other 170 injured people weren’t expecting to have their lives turned upside down. But those who sustained permanent disabilities have just joined a large swath of the population whose needs are not adequately met.

The US government estimates that 20 percent of the population has some form of disability. In Israel, approximately one million Israelis of working age have a disability. Some are born with a disability while other disabilities occur with age. So many people are affected – those with disabilities, their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and communities.

But sometimes, a disability happens in an instant. A car accident, sports injury, a stroke and yes, terrorist attack. Jeff Bauman…. Healthy one minute, a person with a disability the next.

Based on our experience, Jeff Bauman may face some or all of the following challenges:

  • Financial hardships: Disabilities take an economic toll and even if one has health insurance, treatment for the disability is not always covered. (Watch here the story of one Massachusetts’s mother’s successful fight to pass legislation for insurance providers to cover autism treatments.) According to reports, Jeff Bauman does have health coverage but it is not enough to cover the extraordinarily high costs of current and ongoing care he will require. His friends have established Bucks For Bauman to help him. But most people with disabilities face the financial burden alone.
  • Social issues: Sometimes being “different” means being excluded from social circles. People may not discriminate consciously but the seclusion that people with disabilities feel IS real.
  • School environment: Educating students with disabilities alongside their typically developing peers is slowly becoming the norm, as parents demand high-quality inclusive education. But there are still many parents struggling to find a school which can meet their child’s needs- socially and educationally.
  • Workplace difficulties: According to the US Dept. of Labor (2010), only 20 percent of people with disabilities either are employed or are seeking employment. People with disabilities may face problems of office accessibility or accommodation of flex work times by employers. Their disability may also affect their ability to multi-task or complete tasks quickly. Employers are not allowed to discriminate during the interview process – but their hesitation to hire someone with a disability causes them to find reasons not to hire. The fact is: Employing people with disabilities brings innovation to the workforce and benefits the economy.

Jeff Bauman faces an extended, uphill battle. Millions of people with disabilities confront similar circumstances daily but this should not be compounded by being forced to combat prejudices, employment barriers or social exclusion. Just the opposite: Every member of society is equal. We are all the same, despite our perceived differences. People with disabilities deserve the same love and respect we bestow on others.

I challenge you to simply look around. The odds are that you know a family member, friend, neighbor, classmate or co-worker with a disability. This issue affects so many people in our community and we need to utilize our resources and energies to ensure that people with disabilities are not left on the outside looking in. Our foundation works to put the issue of full inclusion of people with disabilities onto the international Jewish agenda. Jewish organizations and philanthropists are beginning to make inclusion a priority, but they are not alone. Each of us can contribute in our own way, in our local community.

The outpouring of community love and mobilizing to assist those injured in the marathon bombings will hopefully be sustained and not short-term. The injured will have to live with their disabilities from now on and they will live among us. Excluding them is not an option.

So Jeff Bauman, from one Bostonian to another, you are not alone. As far as we are concerned, #BostonStrong is not just a temporary hashtag. It means that we are ALL in this together – now and forever

About the Author
Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to promote disability inclusion and strengthen Israel’s relationship with the American Jewish community.