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What Does Inclusion Mean To You?

February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. As part of our Federation’s commitment to inclusion, every week this month we will feature a blog written by either a member of our community, his or her parent, or a volunteer or professional working with one of our partner organizations that serves individuals with special needs.

We recently interviewed Cindy Steinschriber, a Pico-Robertson resident and transformational life coach who specializes in working with caregivers to rediscover their own voice and step into their dreams. Proud mother of daughter Liora and son Yoni, Cindy and her husband Steve have been relentless advocates for Liora, who has special needs. In work and advocacy, Cindy believes that the word “impossible” has no place and that “no” simply means “not yet.”

Read our interview below with Cindy, who is actively involved with the Jewish LA Pooled Trust. The Jewish LA Pooled Trust, a partner of Jewish Federation Los Angeles and a part of the HaMercaz-LAJAC Partners Group, ensures that children and adults with disabilities are able to obtain a high quality of life by leveraging the power of the community to assist with financial security. The Jewish LA Special Needs Trust is the first ever Pooled Special Needs Trust for persons with disabilities in Los Angeles County.

What does inclusion mean to you?
I think everybody benefits from being in a more inclusive society. Inclusion means much more choice in the lives of people with special needs than what society previously afforded them. Living, working, and socializing with individuals who have disabilities is not only important for them, but it is critical for building a more inclusive, sensitive society. However, I don’t perceive full inclusion as a hard and fast goal that applies to every individual. We have to look at who the person is, what their unique needs require, and in what kind of environment they thrive and grow. We have a daughter who has had friends since she was little who are not disabled. They continue to be like sisters to her and remain an important part of her life. Nevertheless, on a daily basis, she is most comfortable socializing and living with peers who also have disabilities. We need to look at each individual, see where they feel the most comfortable, and meet them where they are. At the same time, just as the rest of us benefit from setting “growth” goals for ourselves and stepping outside of our comfort zone, people with disabilities need the rest of us to believe in their ability to reach a higher potential and then work with them to set goals for themselves that will inspire and challenge them.

What has your involvement with the Jewish LA Pooled Trust meant to you and your family?
There’s a global answer and a more parochial answer. I have always been excited to participate in new and pioneering efforts to advance the interests of the special needs community, especially within the Jewish community of Los Angeles. Excited to move our community forward in ways that are constructive. Excited to see something go from being a vision to taking on a shape and form that benefits others.

The Jewish LA Pooled Trust is a way for parents and others to provide for their adult children with special needs — family members with special needs can use funds while the parents are still alive, which is completely new. Parents don’t have to go broke during retirement, spending all of their assets on their adult children with special needs because the money they set aside in a special needs trust isn’t accessible to their family members until they die. The pooled special needs trust allows us to put away money now and for the future, to know they are protected and that there are funds available. It’s really marvelous what this whole project does and what it offers to special needs families.

What is something you wish you could change about how others perceive individuals with special needs?
No matter the degree to which a person is impacted by their unique challenges, he or she is still created in the image of the Creator of us all, with the same human needs we all share: a warm smile, a friendly hello, friendships, respect, dignity. I would want people to reach out to those with special needs the same way they reach out to anyone else. People with special needs want to have a voice in the world and have people listen and care about who they are and what they have to say. So many people are scared to be around people with special needs and are too quick to judge — but what you generally find is that what you get in return from having a friendship with someone with special needs is joy from each smile and the knowledge that you are in the presence of someone who has no hidden agenda, no subterfuge. Rather, you encounter someone who celebrates friendship and accomplishment with a pure heart and unbridled honesty.

What have you learned from your children?
I have learned to celebrate every step forward in both of their lives and to appreciate that we are all works in progress. That has taught me patience and a renewed appreciation for their unique strengths, needs, and personalities. With respect specifically to our daughter Liora, I also have grown to realize and appreciate what she brings to the world. She is a real blessing to those who come to know her and she brings out deeper gifts and character in those who work with her. My husband Steve and I have found over and over again that the impact Liora has on other people is often more profound and impactful than their impact on her.

I have learned to have a lot more patience due to Liora’s challenges. I have learned to hear and respect what she intuitively knows about herself. I have also learned to broaden my contextual understanding. I’ve learned to understand her emotional needs and look beyond what is being said sometimes to comprehend the emotions behind her words — to really appreciate that she may be going through some difficulties that aren’t immediately obvious.

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