This story comes to us from the Hillel International blog and features Tova Kline, a 22-year-old senior studying public relations communications and marketing at Hofstra University. Tova is a member of the inaugural cohort of the Ruderman Inclusion Ambassadors, a program that helps students to reach out to their peers with disabilities and involve them in campus life.

How are you working to facilitate disability inclusion on your campus?

We have done dinner discussions to bring people closer. In our dinner discussions, we have talked about the disability community as a whole, what it means to have a disability, what we've noticed around campus, and even our personal experiences. What I found that works with our community, is asking the students what they need to feel most accommodated and included. Some of the feedback I got was more geared toward hangout sessions (which are in the plan for this upcoming semester). Students don’t care who their friends are, what circles they run in or anything else. Just that they feel welcome and find their own community at more than just the major events we hold for Jewish holidays.

What would you say has been your biggest success so far?

My events have been my biggest successes. Through a lot of conversation, I have had the ability to hear students advocate for themselves as well as others in their feelings. I have been able to watch students during Shabbat dinners include students with disabilities at their Shabbat tables, which was never the case before. Our Shabbats at Hillel have become less about sitting with the "right people" and more about being a completely inclusive community.

What are some challenges you’ve faced?

As a student, finding the time in our busy schedule to plan discussions and stay connected with students is a lot harder than it seemed at first.

What drew you to this work? Is this personal for you?

Growing up with a learning disability always made me feel a little bit different and not always welcome at community events. It's nice to see that not only was I not alone but that the work I'm doing is making a difference.

What do you believe is the single biggest misconception about people with disabilities?

I think the biggest misconception when it comes to people with disabilities, is that they are "contagious." That somehow, having a disability will rub off on someone else. People always seem so scared to talk to a person with a disability out of fear. 

Why is it important for the Jewish community to focus on disability awareness and inclusion?

This is us. This is who we are as individuals and as a community. In Parashat Kedoshim in Vayikra, we are taught to "love thy neighbor as thyself" and I think that is the most important lesson in the Torah. Individuals with disabilities are our neighbors and we shouldn't treat them any differently than we would ourselves.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.