(photo credit: RUDERMAN FAMILY FOUNDATION)
The Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF) announced on Monday that it will award the second annual Morton E.
Ruderman Award in Inclusion to Ari Ne’eman, co-founder and president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
The $100,000 award recognizes an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish world and the greater public and is based on past achievements and the potential for future contributions to the field.
“I am deeply honored, not only because it is a very prestigious award. It means more to me because it came from a Jewish foundation,” Ne’eman recently told The Jerusalem Post.
“I had to leave a Jewish day school because of my disability, I often didn’t feel welcome in many Jewish communal spaces, but at the same time I’ve always had a very Jewish identity,” he said. “So, to be recognized by a Jewish foundation in this way, especially because Jay Ruderman and the Foundation have been pushing long and overdue common Jewish spaces to include people with disabilities, is an incredible honor.”
Ne’eman, a leading advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, serves as president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN ), an organization run by and for autistic adults seeking to increase the representation of autistic people across society.
In 2009, US President Barak Obama nominated Ne’eman to the National Council on Disability, a federal agency charged with advising Congress and the president on disability- policy issues.
Ne’eman founded the ASAN out of a desire to be part of the conversation and decision-making process surrounding autistic adults.
“There was a lot of conversation about autism – about us, but without us. Many people were talking about autism and very frequently we weren’t happy with the things they were saying,” he explained.
“There was a focus on portraying autistic people as tragedies or burdens with a heavy emphasis on making people look and act ‘normal,’ even if really what we wanted, or what would best support us, would be assistance in understanding ourselves and accessing necessary services rather than trying to pretend to be something that we weren’t.”
The organization aims to represent the autistic community in a “collective, systemic way” and to be in a position to communicate preferences to the government, Ne’eman said.
One of the main challenges facing autistic adults, he stated, is to escape segregated settings – whether institutions or in the field of employment.
The aim is to bring support to “where people live rather than bring people to a certain place to get support and to integrate people with disabilities into the general workforce rather than place them in segregated workplaces.”
With regards to Israel, Ne’eman believes the Israeli conversation is where the American one was some time ago. Unfortunately, he explained, Israel still places autistic people or people with other cognitive disabilities in institutions or separate housing, and there are employment centers for people with disabilities, while children are placed in a separate school system.
“In Israel, there is still a very heavy dependence on segregated institution models, though we are beginning to see the emergence of growing self-advocacy movements,” he said.
“We need to be moving beyond awareness towards real acceptance and inclusion in society,” he concluded.
“This award is an honor, and I hope that this is an opportunity to call greater attention to the issue of inclusion in the Jewish community.”
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, praised Ne’eman’s work, saying, “As a person with autism, Ari Ne’eman serves as an inspiration to millions of people with disabilities around the world.
“My father, someone who believed that we all deserve a fair shot in life, would have been proud that Ari has received an award in his name.”
The award, is named for Mort E. Ruderman, a founder of the Ruderman Family Foundation and a successful entrepreneur, mentor and proud family man. He saw his success as the result of help he received from others and, therefore, was passionate about providing opportunities for others – including assisting many people in becoming independent and successful in business.