From disability to affability

“Curb cuts were created for wheelchair users.  Now parents pushing strollers and people walking with luggage on wheels all benefit.”  Thus says Haben Girma, a friend who has a knack for surmounting barriers to produce benefits and blessings.  She is a deaf-blind global advocate for disability inclusion who loves to frame disabilities as opportunities for innovation.

We live in times when self-imposed impediments keep us from being at our best.  Headlines about hostility dim our days.  Perhaps the fog of contempt can be lifted by the glowing humanity of those who can clear the air and show the way from disability to capability.

Champions of inclusion like the Ruderman Family Foundation are leading change in the realms of sports, technology, law making and enforcing, and entertainment.  Beyond changing MLB’s Disabled List to the Injured List and establishing a Seal of Approval for a more inclusive Hollywood, they are consistently awakening the promise of more fair and flourishing communities

This week’s portion of Torah conveys an uneasy precept.  Limits are placed upon a Priest who has physical abnormalities like a missing leg or a hunchback (Lev. 21:16-23).  The spirit of the law suggests that such abnormalities present a distraction from the Priestly task.  Some sages assert, however, that if such a Priest serves a community for whom his abnormality is not a distraction, a community where he is embraced in all of his dignity, then such a Priest may indeed fully serve such a constituency.  In this regard, an injunction that initially challenges sensibilities turns out to be a communal call toward more inclusive communal norms.   What initially seems like an edict against disability turns out to be a test for our humanity.

Timothy Shriver writes concerning the thousands of books about his extended family, the Kennedy’s, the majority barely make mention of his great-aunt Rosemary.  To marginalize Rosemary’s influence on the family’s values and legacy is a huge mistake.  She was not peripheral.  She was at the core of the most enduring dimensions of her extended family’s influence on America and the world.

A reorientation toward disability inclusion is not elective.  It is essential.  Formulas for lifting physical barriers can help school us in how to better cope with attitudinal barriers.  In so doing, they may help transport our world from disability toward affability.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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