More Needed For Jews With Special Needs

December 13th, 2011

The Jewish Week
By Jonathan Mark
Dec. 13, 2011

All of us have “special needs” — to use that kind euphemism for the most unkind physical, mental or cognitive disabilities. Most of us simply don’t know it yet.

Alexis Kashar, who is deaf and president of the Jewish Deaf Resource Center, and a civil rights lawyer on behalf of the physically and learning disabled, recalled a litigation in which the opposing lawyer discovered that his own newly born son was deaf, only to seek advice from Kashar’s firm about how best to educate him.

Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award-winner who has been deaf since infancy, told of meeting Henry Winkler when she was a child, later learning that Winkler was dismissed when he was a child for being “slow,” and a “dumb dog,” before his dyslexia was properly diagnosed.

At their first meeting, Matlin’s mother asked Winkler not to encourage her daughter’s acting hopes too much since disappointment was inevitable, she thought, for a deaf actress. Winkler nodded politely to the well-meaning Mrs. Matlin.

And then “Henry turned around, knelt down, looked me straight in the eye, and said in his coolest, most Fonzie-like voice, ‘Sweetheart, you can be whatever you want to be. … Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’”

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