Advocates for Inclusion



February 12, 2017

More than 20 students and staffers from DC-area Hillels and Hillel International headed to Capitol Hill Feb 2. on the seventh annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) to hear from a bipartisan group of lawmakers and to advocate for protecting Medicaid and preserving the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The annual event at the Cannon House Office Building, organized by Jewish Federations of North America, provided an opportunity for Jewish disabilities advocates to learn from and engage with their elected officials on issues they find important.

“We get our best ideas from the community,” said Rep. James Langevin (D-Rhode Island), co-chair of the House Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, who uses a wheelchair. “You are a tremendous resource.”

When a New York Times reporter was recently mocked for his disability, “it generated a national dialogue about showing respect and tolerance for each other. These efforts are needed now more than ever,” Langevin said.

Lily Coltoff, a freshman with disabilities at American University, joined her Hillel’s contingent to learn more about both Jewish and disability advocacy.

“I wanted to find a way to pursue those passions,” she said. “Disability advocacy and Jewish advocacy – the two of them together […] matter a lot to me.”

Adam Fishbein (American University ’20), attended JDAD to better understand where to direct his efforts.

“As a student with disabilities and a self-advocate, I learned that I should be advocating to the career professionals in the Executive Branch of government and not worry as much about the Cabinet secretaries,” he said.

Fishbein poses a question to disability rights advocates: “What advice do you have for me as a self-advocate? How can I be a better self-advocate?”

Allies of those with disabilities, like Stephanie Black (American University ’19), also attended, advocating for greater inclusion in their communities.

“Because I’ve found my tribe through my university Hillel,” she said, “I believe strongly everyone should have a chance to find a community that supports, loves and cares about them, regardless of ability.”

Hillel International earlier this year partnered with the Ruderman Family Foundation to launch the Ruderman Inclusion Ambassadors program, a cohort of engagement interns on campus, tasked to lead groundbreaking conversations about disability inclusion at Hillel.

The Ruderman Inclusion Ambassadors program builds on Hillel’s peer-engagement methodology, reaching out to students with disabilities to involve them in Hillel and Jewish life.

“In my mind, disability inclusion on campus involves making every aspect of campus life accessible to disabled students without having to differentiate,” American University’s Coltoff said. “Allowing them to be included in all sorts of events, activities and academics without them standing out as a student with a disability.”