Panelists Discuss Living with a Disability
This past May, Project IncludED, an on-campus club that creates programming to promote acceptance and inclusion of individuals with disabilities, hosted an “Open Panel with Yachad Members: Living with a Disability.” The club periodically runs sensitivity training workshops at a local public school in Washington Heights as well as on-campus events to increase students’ awareness of the unique challenges and opportunities encountered by individuals with disabilities.
The event was run in conjunction with Yachad, a Jewish organization dedicated to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in everyday life, and approximately 30 students, YU alumni, and Yachad staff members attended the evening program. The panel featured two Yachad members, Chana Brukman and Eli Finkelstein, who each had the opportunity to speak about a wide range of topics, ranging from their involvement with Yachad to their careers and aspirations.
The panelists answered prepared questions as well as took unscripted inquiries from the audience. Chana, who has Down syndrome, explained that the condition has not stopped her from actively pursuing her goal to become famous. She is nearly finished writing a book that explores the new opportunities now available to the disabled community. She enjoys music and comedy-themed YouTube videos when not working at CVS Pharmacy. Chana cited her mother as her personal role model, stating that just as her mother continuously inspires her, she seeks to inspire others in the same way. She also shared that she is proud to be Jewish and feels a deep and meaningful connection to her Jewish roots.
Eli, who has Asperger’s syndrome (now known as autism), shared insights about his work with Yachad, including a recent achievement: planning a singles’ event for Yachad members. He also discussed how his martial arts training has assisted him in controlling his anger, a character trait he works tirelessly to improve. Eli is currently employed at Starbucks and is especially passionate about advocating for the needs of individuals with disabilities.
Two main ideas were reinforced throughout the event. The first was how the speakers’ involvement with Yachad has dramatically shaped their lives. For instance, Chana explained that before she began working with job coaches from Yachad, she felt shy and needed others to speak for her; today, she loves to speak freely and has even served as a Yachad panelist at multiple schools, including City University of New York’s Brooklyn College. Eli also considers Yachad job coaches to be personal role models, stating that their time, devotion and patience in communicating with him has helped him mature into the leader and advocate he is today.
The panelists also stressed the need for individuals with disabilities to be treated in the same way as others. They also strongly encouraged the audience to pay attention to the way they communicate with an individual with a disability. Bending down to speak to someone who is short or ignoring someone with slurred speech are actions that should be avoided. Most important, the panelists reminded everyone that they are independent and work hard on their careers. It is vital that we recognize just how accomplished individuals can be, no matter what challenge they may have.