Ruderman Family Foundation

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Ruderman Family Foundation
Founded2002; 19 years ago (2002)
TypeInternational non-governmental organization
Region served
Jay Ruderman

The Ruderman Family Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation established in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, managed by the Ruderman family. The foundation operates in the United States 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 with the help of strategic philanthropy.


The Ruderman Family Foundation was established in 2002. Jay Ruderman is the president of the foundation, and his wife Shira is its executive director.[1] In 2006, the foundation opened an office in Israel.[2]

White papers[edit]

In March 2016, the Ruderman Family Foundation released its first white paper[3] – a 2-year overview (2013–2015) of media coverage of law enforcement's use of force against disabled individuals with the goal of creating public awareness of the battle for inclusion and equality of people with disabilities. The study was authored by David M. Perry, a disability rights journalist and Associate Professor of History at Dominican University, and Lawrence Carter-Long, an authority on media representation of disability. It concluded that disabled individuals make up a third to half of individuals killed by law enforcement officers and the majority in use-of-force cases such as 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 fully exonerated. The authors argue that the media ignored the disability component or reported them in ways that intensified stigma and ableism. The study was covered by media outlets including NBC News,[4] Al Jazeera,[5] Russia Today,[6] International Business Times[7] and New York Magazine.[8]

A second white paper[9] released by the foundation in July 2016 revealed that people with disabilities are the most unrepresented minority in Hollywood. Despite making up nearly 20% of the US population, 95% of disabled characters 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 known for his role as Mickey on Seinfeld, and Kristina Kopić, the foundation's Advocacy Content Specialist, surveyed hundreds of actors with visible and non-visible disabilities. Most worked less than once a year and felt they were discriminated against by casting agents and producers. Ruderman and Woodburn co-authored an op-ed[10] in the Los Angeles Times discussing the issue, and the findings of the report were published in The Washington Post,[11] Mic,[12] Variety,[13] Yahoo News, Chicago Tribune, The Columbus Dispatch,, IndieWire,[14] Vulture[15] and Teen Vogue.[16]

Prior to the 2016 US presidential election, the foundation released its third white paper,[17] 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 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 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[18] and covered by The Guardian[19] and Mic.[20]

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,[21] Boston Herald,[22] Autotrader[23] and Curbed.[24]

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 often erases the victims while sympathizing with the killers.[25]

A white paper released in August 2017 stated that people with non-apparent disabilities do not always receive the accommodations guaranteed to them under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students with non-apparent disabilities were said to be suspended and criminalized at a disproportionately high rates, while over half of the incarcerated population of the United States suffered from mental illness. Another 19-31% had cognitive or learning disabilities.[26][27][28]

In September 2017, the Foundation launched the Ruderman TV Challenge, a call-to-action follow up to the Ruderman White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television. It was found that only 2% of all television characters compared to the 20% of the US population is disabled, and that 95% of top TV show characters with disabilities are played by non-disabled performers. The challenge called for the creators of scripted television pilots to audition and cast more performers with disabilities.[29][30][31][32][33][34]

In April 2017, the Ruderman White Paper "Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders" examined mental health issues among first responders and their elevated rate of suicide. One study found that on average, police officers witness 188 critical incidents during their careers which can lead to mental illness. The paper lays out barriers that prevent first responders from accessing mental health services when coping with trauma.[35][36][37][38][39][40][41]

Released in December 2018, this paper investigates the practice of imposing leaves of absence on students experiencing mental illness. The study grades the leave of absence policies of eight universities, none of which received higher than a D+. The paper also covered ethnographic aspects of the problem.[42][43][44]


Starting in 2016, the foundation created a network of young self advocates and young leaders without disabilities called Link20. The goal is to create 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.[45] Individuals that have supported the function include Dwayne Johnson.[46]

Disability Inclusion[edit]

On November 1, 2016, the foundation put together the Ruderman Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability Inclusion, bringing together 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,[47] BuzzFeed,[48] Yahoo!,[49] Nonprofit Quarterly[50] and The Mighty.[51]

Ruderman Prize in Inclusion[edit]

In 2012, the Ruderman Family Foundation launched the annual Ruderman Prize In Inclusion[52] - 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.

Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion[edit]

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. In 2017 the winner was Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin.[53] The 2019 recipient of the award was Olympic champion Michael Phelps, for sharing his mental health journey.[54] The 2020 awardees will be filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrell for their inclusive and accurate depictions of people with disabilities.[55]

Israel's Relationship with the American Jewish Community[edit]

The foundation has worked to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community since 2011, when it first took a delegation of Israeli legislators to the United States for an educational tour of the Jewish community.[56] As of 2013, the foundation also takes Israeli journalists on similar tours.[57] In 2012 the foundation helped establish the Israel-US Knesset caucus. In 2013 the foundation partnered with the University of Haifa, opening the Ruderman Program for American Jewish studies, the first academic program of its kind in Israel.[58] In 2019 the foundation published a report with the Institute for National Security Studies about the ramifications of the relationship on Israel's national security.[59][60] During 2020 the foundation and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted a special event highlighting the importance of the relationship.[61]


In response to the release of the 2016 film Me Before You, the Foundation condemned the film's portrayal of disability, in which the protagonist—who is paralyzed—ends up committing suicide because he feels his life is not worth living: "To the millions of people with significant disabilities currently leading fulfilling, rich lives, [the film] posits that they are better off committing suicide."[62][63]

In the wake of pressure from Poland, the Foundation removed a video from YouTube posted on February 21, 2018 that was part of a campaign urging the United States to suspend its ties with Poland over the law that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation or state for German Nazi crimes.[64] The Foundation released a statement saying that "after a hugely successful campaign that went viral internationally and among American Jews and Israelis who have signed the petition — the Foundation was contacted by the Polish Jewish community and because of their concerns for their safety, we decided to halt the campaign."[65] The video was condemned by Jewish communities in Poland for using the phrase "Polish Holocaust," which was deemed false and hurtful,[66] as well as by the Israeli Embassy in Poland.[67]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 2018 - Chuck Segal Award[68]
  • 2016 – The Arc Catalyst Award for Philanthropy Foundation of the Year
  • 2016 – Edward M. Kennedy Leadership Award from the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts (DLCMA)
  • 2015 – Visionary Leadership Award from the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC)
  • 2014 – Lewis H. Millender Community of Excellence Award from Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP)


  1. ^ 50 Most Influential Jews: Jay and Shira Ruderman
  2. ^ "Woman in a man’s world: Ruderman says bold action will save Israel-Diaspora ties"
  3. ^ "White Paper". Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  4. ^ "Half of People Killed by Police Have a Disability: Report". Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  5. ^ AJ+ (March 15, 2016). "Half Of People Killed By Police May Be Disabled". Retrieved December 10, 2017 – via YouTube.
  6. ^ "Far too many victims of police violence are disabled". RT International. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  7. ^ "Police Related Deaths: Mental Disability Victims Comprise Half Of Those Killed By Law Enforcement, Report Says". March 15, 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  8. ^ "Half of People Killed at the Hands of Police Are Disabled". Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  9. ^ "Ruderman Family Foundation - Not Found". Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  10. ^ "Why are we OK with disability drag in Hollywood?". Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  11. ^ Butler, Bethonie (July 16, 2016). "Almost all disabled TV characters are played by able-bodied actors. Can we fix that?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  12. ^ Mic. "There's a Huge Problem in How Television Represents People With Disabilities". Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  13. ^ Wagmeister, Elizabeth (July 13, 2016). "Able-Bodied Actors Play 95% of Disabled Characters in Top 10 TV Shows, Says New Study". Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  14. ^ Calvario, Liz (July 16, 2016). "Disabled Characters on Television: 95% of Roles in Top 10 Shows Played By Able-Bodied Actors — Report". Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  15. ^ "A New Study Says 95 Percent of Actors Playing Disabled Characters in TV's Top 10 Shows Are Able-Bodied". Vulture. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  16. ^ McNamara, Brittney. "On Top of Being Racist and Sexist, Hollywood Is Also Ableist". Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  17. ^ "The Ruderman White Paper: Voting Accessibility For People With Disabilities". Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  18. ^ Rubin, Shoshana (November 3, 2016). "The hidden group of Americans still fighting for the right to vote". Fox News. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  19. ^ "Why do one in seven US citizens still have to fight to vote?". The Guardian. November 1, 2016. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  20. ^ Mic. "Report: Voters with disabilities are treated like "second-class citizens" at the polls". Mic. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  21. ^ Toussaint, Kristin (January 17, 2017). "Self-driving cars could help employ 2M people with disabilities: Study". Metro. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  22. ^ "Study: Self-driving cars will benefit disabled". Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  23. ^ "Self-Driving Cars Could Allow As Many As 2 Million People With Disabilities to Work – Autotrader". Autotrader. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  24. ^ Sisson, Patrick (January 18, 2017). "How driverless cars can empower Americans with disabilities". Curbed. Retrieved February 10, 2017.
  25. ^ "Ruderman Family Foundation » The Ruderman White Paper: Media Coverage of the Murder of People with Disabilities by their Caregivers". Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  26. ^ Kaplan-Mayer, Gabrielle. "Criminalization of Children with Mental Illness". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  27. ^ Admin (September 6, 2017). "Criminalization of Children with Mental Illness". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  28. ^ Kopic, Kristina (February 5, 2018). "We Must Stop the Rampant Criminalization of Youth with Disabilities". Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  29. ^ Blake, Melissa. "Casting Bryan Cranston as a quadriplegic? Hollywood could do better". CNN. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  30. ^ "Boston nonprofit again upset about able-bodied actor playing individual with disability". The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 22, 2019. |first= missing |last= (help)
  31. ^ characters-with-disabilities-on-screen-but-not-on-set-506604
  32. ^ "Jake Gyllenhaal film slated over casting". September 15, 2017. Retrieved March 22, 2019 – via
  33. ^ Robb, David (September 13, 2017). "Actors With Disabilities Find Little Work In TV, But CBS & Fox Lead Way In Hiring And Auditioning: Study". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  34. ^ Anderson, Tre'vell. "Disability organization condemns 'Blind' film for casting Alec Baldwin in lead role". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  35. ^
  36. ^ "California Offers Safe Space For Firefighters To Work Through Stress And Trauma". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  37. ^ Eastern Tech students and faculty grieve loss of Baltimore County officer who killed himself at school
  38. ^ Davison, Kate (November 12, 2018). "NEWS9 Special Assignment: Who's helping the helpers?". WTOV. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  39. ^ Ruderman, Jay (June 8, 2018). "Bourdain and Spade suicides spotlight crisis also affecting police and firefighters". Fox News. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  40. ^
  41. ^ "'Silence can be deadly': 46 officers were fatally shot last year. More than triple that — 140 — committed suicide". USA TODAY. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  42. ^ "Are Colleges Failing Students with Mental Illness?". Psychology Today. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  43. ^ Stannard, Ed. "Report: Yale fails to meet grade in mental health leave policies". West Hartford News. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  44. ^ "Columbia receives D grade for leave of absence policies in national report". Columbia Daily Spectator. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  45. ^ "A powerful Israeli video on disabilities inclusion: 'We are here'". Jewish News. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  46. ^ "'The Rock' Joins Boston-Based Group That Promotes Rights For Disabled". July 12, 2018. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  47. ^ "Disabled actors and advocates plead to Hollywood: 'Give us a chance, please!'". Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  48. ^ "Filmmakers Asked Marlee Matlin To Teach A Non-Deaf Actress "How To Be Deaf"". BuzzFeed. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  49. ^ "Actors With Disabilities Speak Up: "Just Give Us A Chance"". Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  50. ^ "Activist Ruderman Foundation Takes Up Discrimination against Actors with Disabilities| Nonprofit Quarterly". Non Profit News For Nonprofit Organizations | Nonprofit Quarterly. November 3, 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  51. ^ "This Infuriating TV Statistic Affects You Whether You Realize It or Not". The Mighty. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  52. ^ "Ruderman Prize In Inclusion". Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  53. ^ Kilgannon, Maddie. "Marlee Matlin gives opening address at Ruderman Family Foundation Inclusion Summit". The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  54. ^ "Michael Phelps is Recipient of Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  55. ^ "Farrelly Brothers Receive Ruderman Family Foundation Honor for Disability Inclusivity in Film". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  56. ^ "MKs to learn about US Jewish community". Ynetnews. March 24, 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  57. ^ "Ruderman Foundation helps Israeli journalists learn about American Jews". Jewish Journal. December 13, 2018. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  58. ^ (August 12, 2013). "University of Haifa, Ruderman Family Foundation launch pioneering 'American Jewish Studies' program". Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  59. ^ "Think tank: Israel must fix U.S. Jewry relations or risk nat'l security". The Jerusalem Post | Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  60. ^ "The American Jewish Community and Israel's National Security". INSS.
  61. ^ Rudee, Eliana (February 20, 2020). "Family ties: Israeli and American leaders assemble in Jerusalem to mend fences, build bridges". Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  62. ^ "'Me Before You' director responds to controversy over film's ending". Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  63. ^ "The director of Me Before You is #sorrynotsorry about its controversial ending". Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  64. ^ "Ruderman Foundation campaign urges US to suspend ties with Poland over Holocaust law". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
  65. ^ Gera, Vanessa. "US Jewish group withdraws Holocaust video offensive to Poles". ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
  66. ^ "The statement on the Ruderman Family Foundation film – The Jewish Community of Warsaw". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  67. ^ Izraela, Ambasada (February 21, 2018). "Oświadczenie w sprawie filmu amerykańskiej". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  68. ^ "The Chuck Siegal President Award Received by the Ruderman Family Foundation". Retrieved March 22, 2019.

External links[edit]