Seeing Abilities in Those with Disabilities

Deb Weiner

How does the Jewish community include individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities? In all walks of life, spiritual, educational, recreational and social, how do we help create a warm and safe space for this underserved population? Keshet is an organization that provides answers to these questions for the Jewish community and beyond.

Seeing Abilities in Those with Disabilities

Inspiration for a career

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I've spent a lot of time this week reminiscing about the past, my education, and how far I've come. I'm sure my reflection had to do with my mother, a retired elementary school teacher, recently attending a teacher retirement luncheon and seeing one of my absolute favorite teachers from elementary school. I swear, you would have thought I was 12 years old based on how excited I got when my mom told me she saw Mrs. Rinkenberger. Of course I wanted to know how she was doing, but more importantly, I wanted her to know what I was up to. I really wanted her to know that I was working for Keshet, and my professional path that lead me to the world of special needs.

Mrs. Rinkenberger has always, and will always have a very special place in my heart. Not only was Mrs. Rinkenberger a phenomenal special ed teacher (yes, I was in special ed!), but she was a constant example of what hard work and perseverance got you. My beloved Mrs. Rinkenberger has cerebral palsy and was my biggest advocate (along with my mom, of course) to make sure I met my full potential. Mrs. Rinkenberger constantly believed in me. She would share stories from her childhood about having cerebral palsy in the 1950s and everything she had to overcome to be who she wanted to be. She never let me feel sorry for myself and I still have the book, The Little Engine That Could, and a mustard seed that she gave me 20 years ago. 

I like to think that Mrs. Rinkenberger [subconsciously?] had a huge influence on my decision to work for Keshet. She took me to my first Special Olympics area games when I was 10 years old, and I remember that amazing warm and fuzzy feeling I got from being there… and it is because of her exposing me to the special needs community that I feel like this community is home. I find this environment incredibly rewarding, and with my position, I am able to spend time with our participants, highlighting their stories, showcasing their strengths, and giving them a voice...I feel like I have a purpose, and I have the opportunity to influence perception of how these individuals are perceived.

So I thank you, Mrs. Rinkenberger…for introducing me to my home away from home…and for helping me find my purpose.

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