The Ruderman Family Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation established in 2002 in Boston, USA, managed by the Ruderman family. The foundation operates in America and in Israel in two main areas: inclusion of people with disabilities in society and strengthening the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community, while promoting strategic philanthropy and expanding circles of giving and involvement.
In March 2016, the Ruderman Family Foundation released its first white paper – a two-year media study and overview (2013–2015) on media coverage of law enforcement use of force and disability – in order to change the public’s awareness of people with disabilities and the civil rights battle they face for full inclusion and equality. The study was authored by David M. Perry, a disability rights journalist and Associate Professor of History at Dominican University, and Lawrence Carter-Long, one of the world’s foremost authorities on media representation of disability. It concluded that disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers and make up the majority of those killed in use-of-force cases that attract widespread attention, including Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Tanesha Anderson, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. This was true both for cases deemed illegal or against policy and for those in which officers were ultimately fully exonerated. The authors argue that the media ignored the disability component of these stories, or, worse, told them in ways that intensified stigma and ableism. The Ruderman white paper received international attention for bringing this issue to light and hopes to start a larger dialogue about the need for greater law enforcement training when it comes to interacting with people with disabilities. The study was covered by media outlets including NBC News, Al Jazeera, Russia Today,International Business Times and New York Magazine.
A second white paper was released by the foundation in July 2016 and revealed that the most unrepresented minority in Hollywood is people with disabilities – a group that had not been included within the recent #OscarSoWhite ‘diversity crisis’ conversation. Despite those with disabilities representing nearly 20% of the US population, 95% of characters with disabilities on TV are portrayed by able-bodied actors. The report, co-authored by actor Danny Woodburn, one of the most recognizable actors with a disability and most famously known as playing Mickey on Seinfeld, and Kristina Kopić, Advocacy Content Specialist at the foundation, also surveyed hundreds of actors who have visible and non-visible disabilities to document their experience. A plurality of actors with disabilities worked less than once a year and were constantly subjected to negative stigma and preconceived bias on the part of casting agents and producers. Ruderman and Woodburn co-authored an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times discussing the issue, and the findings were also published in The Washington Post,Mic,Variety,Yahoo News, Chicago Tribune, The Columbus Dispatch, Philly.com, IndieWire,IMDB, Vulture MXDWN.com and Teen Vogue.
Leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, the foundation released its third white paper, on voting accessibility for people with disabilities. The Government Accountability Office reported that in 2008 73% of polling places had some potential accessibility barrier, while a Rutgers and Syracuse study determined that if voters with disabilities voted at the same rate as voters with exactly the same demographics, but without disabilities, three million more people would have voted in the 2012 US presidential election. Co-written by Norman Ornstein, a political scientist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, the analysis focused on: insufficient poll worker training; access barriers to polls (including publicly available transportation); access barriers to elections material and registration material prior to elections; stigma (including against developmental and psychiatric disabilities); and limitations on resources available to election officials. The study was featured on Fox News and covered by The Guardian and Mic.
In January 2017, a fourth white paper was released about the benefits of self-driving cars for people with disabilities. Written with Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE), the report concluded that autonomous vehicles could enable new employment opportunities for approximately two million people with disabilities, save $19 billion annually in healthcare expenditures, and provide $1.3 trillion in savings from productivity gains, fuel costs and accident prevention. Furthermore, the report emphasized the societal benefit for people with disabilities by allowing more individuals to fulfill civic responsibilities and exercise civil rights, as well as the impact people with disabilities can have in the legislative and regulatory discussions surrounding emerging transportation technologies. The piece was featured in a number of outlets including Metro,Boston Herald,Autotrader,Curbed and Futurism.
On March 1, the National Disability Day of Mourning—an event collaboratively created by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) to commemorate people with disabilities killed by their caregivers—the Ruderman Family Foundation released a white paper on the media coverage of such murders. This study was again authored by David M. Perry, in collaboration with the Foundation and several self-advocates, including Zoe Gross from ASAN. The study found that at least one such murder takes place in North America a week, and that the media coverage too often erases the victims while sympathizing with the killers.
Starting in 2016, the foundation has begun creating a network of young self advocates and young leaders without disabilities. The goal is to create a network of networks that can rapidly respond to any challenges the disability community identifies or faces. In March 2017, Link20 released a well-received, collaborative video aimed at changing social attitudes toward people with disabilities.
On November 1, 2016, Jay Ruderman and the Ruderman Family Foundation put together the Ruderman Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability Inclusion, bringing together industry experts from the film and television industry to discuss the need for disability diversity in all aspects of the production process. The panelists, which included Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, Speechless creator Scott Silveri, Speechless star Micah Fowler, Seinfeld's Danny Woodburn, Mad TV's Orlando Jones, and Walking Dead producer Glen Mazzara, highlighted successful examples and offered best practices in the quest to reach wider audiences and achieve greater authenticity through disability inclusion. The event received extensive coverage for its groundbreaking effort, being featured in the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Yahoo!, Nonprofit Quarterly and The Mighty.
In 2012, the Ruderman Family Foundation launched the annual Ruderman Prize In Inclusion- an international $250,000 prize awarded annually to five companies and organizations operating innovative services that foster the full inclusion of people with disabilities. The award spotlights the work being done and the models that can be replicated across the world. Thirty $50,000 prizes have been given out to date and past winners include organizations in Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Germany, Mexico, Israel, South Africa, Canada and Argentina.
The foundation has awarded the M.E.R. Award in Inclusion annually since 2013 to an individual who demonstrates outstanding accomplishment in the field of disability inclusion. In 2013, the award was given to Michale Stein, co-founder and Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. In 2014, it was given to Ari Ne'eman, President and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. In 2015, the recipient was Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa, retired), a write of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The latest recipient is Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin.
In response to the release of the 2016 film Me Before You, Ruderman condemned the film's widely criticized portrayal of disability, in which the protagonist—who is paralyzed—ends up committing suicide because he feels his life is not worth living. Ruderman was widely quoted as stating, "To the millions of people with significant disabilities currently leading fulfilling, rich lives, it posits that they are better off committing suicide." Ruderman's second major point in this controversy was that it is problematic for an able-bodied actor to play a character with a disability, a topic he often speaks up about.
In 2018 Foundation produced a short video clip, calling for the United States to halt its relationship with Poland and blaming Poland and the Polish people for Holocaust. The clip was condemned by the Israeli Embassy and Jewish organizations in Poland. The movie clip has been removed by Youtube a few hours later.