RespectAbility Launches Jewish Disability Speakers Bureau

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 adults has a physical, sensory, cognitive or mental health disability. Yet, in a 2018 survey, disability awareness and education non-profit RespectAbility determined that fewer than 15 percent of people could name a single Jewish leader with a disability.

This is why on Dec. 21, RespectAbility announced the launch of the Jewish Disability Speakers Bureau. Speakers include Jewish lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers, rabbis, filmmakers and comedians. The bureau is available to speak virtually at Jewish conferences, synagogues and organizations to allow people with disabilities the opportunity to share their perspectives with the community.

Matan Koch, director of Jewish Leadership RespectAbility, said that the Jewish world is acknowledging the value of inclusive programming that helps represent the diversity of the Jewish people. He added the Jewish community is steadily becoming more aware of, and eager for, contributions and perspectives of people with disabilities.

“Even as we advocate that disability should be included in that reflection,” Koch said, “We recognize the need to supply organizations with talented Jewish speakers with disabilities for their programs and panels.” 

Koch adds that RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau: Jewish Division contains a mix of some of the most experienced and sought-after speakers with disabilities in the Jewish world, including new speakers. Those new to this work are being trained in a combination of workshops, mentorships and speaking opportunities. The training is made possible by the funders of RespectAbility’s Jewish work, including the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, The David Berg Foundation, Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, The Diane P. & Guilford Glazer Fund and others.

Since its establishment in 2013, RespectAbility aims to advance opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of life. Through toolkits, collaborations with major corporate companies and training programs, RespectAbility has not only helped change the way people view those with disabilities but equip people with disabilities with the resources to thrive in various industries.

Since its establishment in 2013, RespectAbility aims to advance opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of life.

They also work in the entertainment industry to increase the number of hires behind and in front of the camera. They continue to consult various projects with major studios. Recently, RespectAbility called out the Warner Bros. film, “The Witches,” for making limb difference a “scary” trait on screen.

RespectAbilitys Vice President of Communications Lauren Appelbaum told the Journal, The disability market is valued at $1 trillion, creating opportunity and incentive for the entertainment industry to stop treating disability as a negative but to showcase people with disabilities for what they are fully capable of. 

The Bureau is made up of nearly 24 speakers in including RespectAbilty leaders like Appelbaum, Koch, Joshua Steinberg and Yonatan Koch.

Fellow Los Angeles speakers include Project Moses members Aaron Wolf, Lee Chernotsky, Lisa Sage and Erika Abbott.

Wolf is an award-winning actor, director, speaker and activist, who is currently working on a project harnessing his own experience as a person living with learning disabilities to de-stigmatize having a disability. Chernotsky is the founder & CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) of ROSIES Foundation. Sage has worked for more than 25 years as a Health Educator for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. Now retired, Sage is  an active volunteer, including as a Board Member, of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. Abbott is an award-winning author and poet receiving the 2016 Poetry award for her debut book, “Porgy’s Revenge,” endorsed by Tom Hanks, and Olympia Dukakis.

National leaders include Rabbi Lauren Tuchman, from Washington D.C and Pamela Schuller from New York. In addition to being the first blind female Rabbi, Tuchman was named one of Jewish Week’s 36 under 36 for her innovative leadership concerning the inclusion of Jews with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life. Schuller is an internationally-known disability and mental health advocate and stand-up comedian whose stories of growing up in a body she had no control over (due to Tourette syndrome) are engaging, powerful, heart-wrenching and funny.

Debbie Fink, RespectAbility’s director of community outreach & impact, leads the Speakers Bureau initiative. She said, “we are tremendously excited to add so many talented speakers to our National Disability Speakers Bureau: Jewish Division, alongside our successful Women and Non-Binary Persons Division. Our many experienced speakers are available…[especially for] Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month in February.” 

To see the full lineup of speakers and invite them to speak at an event, visit RespectAbilty’s website.

UPDATE: This story was updated Dec. 23 to include the Los Angeles leaders and broader national leaders 


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