Q: What positive changes have you seen in the Jewish community vis-a-vis inclusion of people with disabilities during your lifetime?
A: The first positive change I personally witnessed was the recognition by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly for the Conservative Movement in May 2011. It states that:
- Jews who are deaf are responsible for the mitzvot.
- Our communities, synagogues, schools, and camps must strive to be welcoming, accessible, and inclusive.
- Sign language may be used in matters of personal status (weddings and divorce proceedings) and may be used in rituals such as brit milah or brit kodesh by the parents or mohel (and kehillah) and pidyon ha-ben by the parents or kohen.
- Sign language may be used in liturgy. A deaf person called to the Torah who does not speak may recite the berakhot via sign language. A deaf person may serve as shaliah tzibbur in sign language in a minyan whose medium of communication is sign language. Furthermore, since sign language can be used to fulfill a halakhic requirement, those who hear and use speech and who also know sign language may join a minyan of deaf Jews who are using sign language and fulfill the liturgical mitzvot via sign language without having to repeat the prayers orally.
- Sign language may be used for tefillot, such as the Shema and shmoneh esreh, that must be articulated.
The other positive changes that I have seen also include a move towards the provision of programming that is accessible to the full community.
Q: In your opinion, what changes still need to happen, what progress still needs to be made?
A: Inclusive programming, in order to be truly fully inclusive must be organic and include all stakeholders. This means members of the deaf or disabled community must be seated at the same table and decisions are made based on the preferences of the community being served and not on the opinions of those who hold the purse strings.
Inclusion also means different things to different communities and that is why relevant stakeholders must be included in all programming options and changes. For example, some members of the deaf community may prefer services to be led by someone who is fluent in ASL when other members may prefer services that are accessible through a qualified sign language interpreter who is versed in Hebrew.
Q: Who is the person in your life who influenced you the most to make a difference vis-a-vis disability and inclusion?
A: My parents, who are also deaf, were my first role models and advocates. They taught me about the importance of believing in myself and the art of self advocacy. I watched them carry out this message themselves by investing in the deaf community and becoming pioneers in the world of accessible technology. Through this experience, I learned to advocate at a very early age and have carried this with me through my life, striving to make a difference for myself and others.