In Conversation With Carol Corbin

1. Tell us what role the Disabilities Committee at UJA-Federation of NY plays in the scope of the work that UJA does.

The Disabilities Committee is part of UJA’s Caring Department, which works to build a community where all individuals feel both a sense of belonging and a sense of responsibility. The Disabilities Committee seeks to move people from isolation to inclusion, from the margins into the heart of the Jewish community. We want to reduce barriers that prohibit people from achieving their full potential, and we seek to make each person feel valued and included.

2. What is your role with the committee? When, and why, did you become involved with this committee, specifically?

I have worked as a special educator for students with disabilities, an administrator of special education services in the public sector, and supervisor of graduate students receiving their special education degrees. I began volunteering in 1987 for the Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS) board, where I was instrumental in establishing the UJA Westchester Special Needs Roundtable.

Expanding my desire to help individuals with special needs and their families, I joined the UJA Federation Caring Commission Children, Youth and Families Task Force to promote the inclusion of the Special Needs Community in Jewish Life through funding for Family-Centered Autism and Synagogue Inclusion Programming. I served on the Autism Task Force, now called the Autism and Special Needs Committee, a Disabilities Sub-Committee.

As the current chair of the Disabilities Sub-Committee, it has been a pleasure working with parents who have family members with special needs, and other professionals and volunteers who share my passion for promoting the inclusion of the special needs community in Jewish life.

3. What has been a particularly meaningful achievement of the committee that you’re most proud of?

In 2018, the Community Inclusion Committee launched an employment initiative in partnership with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. This program is a public/private partnership aimed at recruiting businesses and training/supporting potential employees with disabilities. We hope to drastically increase the percentage of people with disabilities who find and keep employment. To date, two cohorts of individuals have been trained are now fully prepared for employment in pre-approved positions with participating NYC employers.

4. How has the committee evolved over the past few years, and is it in direct correlation to an overall trend you’re seeing in the general community? Please explain.

As children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and/or other special needs become adults, they transition out of educational system and age out of the structure, services and comprehensive support provided by that system. Based on research commissioned in 2012 to understand the specific needs of Jewish young adults in transition, in 2014, the Committee began funding Transition to Independence programs to promote opportunities for agencies, workplaces, Jewish organizations, and other institutions to increase the inclusion and independence of young adults with ASD in mainstream Jewish and secular communities.

5. What are some of the committee’s current projects and efforts?

Looking beyond the transition to independence for individuals with ASD and other special needs, the Committee is considering what role we might play in developing accessible resources for families and individuals for “future planning.” Plans are important for all stages of life and especially for the future, when the parent or caregiver is no longer able to provide support. Future planning entails creating a guide for a person with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) and their families so they can lead a quality life as independently as possible.

Based on research we commissioned in 2018 to identify the needs of adults in their 30s-50s with disabilities, we are also determining the most strategic funding role for supporting people with disabilities in this age group that will inform a new RFA and the initiative that will be built in the 20-21 fiscal year.

Finally, we thoughtfully began to sunset the Transitions to Independence Grants after five years of funding. We offered trainings and consultations to the funded agencies on strategies for program sustainability, so that they can develop concrete plans to maintain their own programs.