Changing the Way We Perceive Disability
The Connecticut Jewish Ledger recently profiled the Religious Action Center‘s Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Adviser on Disability Issues, in advance of her speaking engagement early next month at Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport. In it, Rabbi Landsberg makes a powerful and personal case for the Jewish community’s role in fighting for the rights of people with disabilities:
“Before my injury, I belonged to one minority that was cohesive, strong and articulate – the American Jewish community. Now I belong to a second minority that is often unseen and unheard – persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act guaranteed accessibility to public places. But nothing demands accessibility to the human heart. In addition to working on legislation, I want to help the Jewish community and others understand that people with disabilities are people first, and disabled second. I want to change the way the able-bodied perceive disability.”
In 1990, Rabbi Landsberg was a rising star of the Reform Movement. With a a masters of divinity from Harvard Divinity School in and a rabbinic ordination from HUC-JIR, she spent two years as the regional director of the then-Mid-Atlantic Council and had served eight years as associate director of the RAC. One morning, as she drove her son to Sunday school, her car hit a path of ice and skidded off the road. Though he son was unscathed, the accident left Rabbi Landsberg in a coma; when she awakened six weeks later, she learned she had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury.
After the accident, Rabbi Landsberg had to re-learn how to walk, talk, and, as she says, “how to live.” Today, she is the Reform Movement’s leading advocate for disability rights, but her work has grown far beyond our Movement and even our faith. Several years ago, she co-founded the Jewish Disability Network, a coalition of national Jewish religious movements and organizations advocating for the civil and human rights of people with disabilities, and then went on to co-found the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, which engages the larger religious community to take action on disability issues.
February is designated as Jewish Disability Awareness Month, but disability issues deserve our attention and awareness all year long. Both in terms of affecting policy and changing attitudes, Rabbi Landsberg is a shining example of the impact faith communities can have on disability issues.