Voices from the Bookshare Community: Rabbi Tuchman is Champion of Disability InclusionBy Laura Deck, posted on July 15, 2020
Rabbi Lauren Tuchman advocates for inclusion at the intersection of faith and disability in the Jewish community
Lauren Tuchman grew up in the Washington, DC suburbs, attending public schools through high school. She is congenitally blind, began reading at age two, and her love of reading has never wavered. After completing an undergraduate degree in religion at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, she initially intended to pursue a Ph.D. in Judaic studies. She entered a master’s degree program at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, but soon realized that she was more interested in serving others and accompanying individuals during moments of transcendence and transition. After earning her master’s degree, she completed rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary and was ordained a rabbi.
Inclusion Part of Jewish Tradition for Thousands of Years
“I position my work for disability inclusion in the Jewish community wearing two hats—that of a rabbi and Jewish educator as well as a proud self-advocate,” says Lauren. “I am interested in situating work for inclusion as an organic part of what it means to live a Jewish life and frequently teach ancient Jewish texts that portray people whom we today would identify as people with disabilities. Through this, I intend to demonstrate that inclusion is not something done from without but has been a part of Jewish and rabbinic tradition for thousands of years.”
In addition to her educational work, she works with colleagues and communities on matters of practical and emotional importance—how to make communities and synagogues more welcoming to Jews with disabilities, where to find accessible resources, and how to combat stigmas that still exist. “I am experiencing some exciting growth in the field of Jewish disability inclusion and yearn for that growth to continue exponentially,” she says.
Graduate and Rabbinical Studies Made Possible by Accessible Books
“I am a proud, passionate Braille reader, and I am also grateful for electronic means of accessing books. I became a Bookshare member in 2004, and the ebook library has supported me immeasurably in both personal and professional capacities,” says Lauren. Bookshare has provided access to countless books in electronic formats that she was not able to find in other places. “With the increase in Bookshare’s partnerships with academic publishers, finding necessary books for my undergraduate work and two graduate degrees became that much easier,” she adds.
“Thank you, Bookshare, for all you do to increase access and opportunity for the print-disabled, blind, and low vision communities.”
Lauren loves the user-friendly, clean interface of Voice Dream Reader and most often reads Bookshare content using that app. She also uses Braille displays and occasionally embosses articles to read using her Braille embosser. “Having multiple ways of reading books is absolutely essential for me as a rabbi and educator and when I was a student. I am grateful to be alive at a time when blind and low vision folks have so many ways to access books,” says Lauren.
Lauren Urges People with Disabilities to Leverage Innovative Thinking
“We’re often referred to as innovators which is a tremendous strength,” says Lauren. “We are naturally out-of-the-box thinkers because we too often have to be. Never underestimate what your lived experience as a person with a disability has taught you. The knowledge you have accrued matters, and how you perceive the world matters.”
Lauren says that people with and without disabilities would live in such a two-dimensional world without others’ unique contributions. “Remember that no two of us are alike, and we all find adaptations and strategies that work for us. It’s OK to try something out, realize it doesn’t serve you, and regroup. Surround yourself with individuals who lift you up and celebrate you. There’s too much judgement in this world and you deserve to live joyously,” she continues.
Four Ways Communities Can Be More Inclusive
The United States is experiencing a national reckoning surrounding issues of racial justice, which impacts the disability community as well. “There is a call to communities to do some deep introspection to unearth unconscious bias, and I believe that this is the key ingredient in creating more welcoming communities for people with disabilities,” she says.
- Strive to prioritize authentic, mutual, genuine relationships with people with disabilities as integral to the fabric of the community, not as diversity checkmarks or tokens.
- Give people with disabilities seats at the decision-making table.
- Work collaboratively with people with disabilities who know their needs and desires best.
- Educate yourself by reading some of the literary treasures of the disability community. Many of these books are in Bookshare!
Benetech applauds the work Rabbi Lauren is doing to educate her community, remove stigmas, and increase inclusion for people with disabilities.
Bookshare is an ebook library for people with reading barriers. Learn more and browse the special collection of disability resources.