Athletes of the Spirit:
An Exploration of Disability
through Art and Writing
22" x 30" $2,100.00
Abby Kovalsky, Age 45
San Francisco, California USA
Abby Kovalsky, coordinator of the
Disabilities Project at Jewish Family
and Children's Services in San Francisco
(JFCS), provides a sympathetic ear to
people with disabilities. She knows
what it means to change her entire life
around because of the onset of a
sudden disease that causes a life-long
disability. When Abby was 16, she was affected by the auto-immune diseaseMyasthenia Gravis, which causes involuntary muscles to weaken. After surgery and many types of treatment, the course of the illness stabilized. The residual effect continues to be weakness in facial muscles, affecting her speech. Abby's intelligence and articulate manner led her to the path she now follows; providing support to members of the Jewish community who have disabilities. Her services include counseling, support groups , case management, information and referral, advocacy and a volunteer program. During our conversation at JFCS, I was struck by Abby's genuine concern for people. She fit my interview into an extremely tight schedule and yet focused all of her attention on me even as phones where ringing and people where knocking at her door.
Of the many interesting things Abby told me, two ideas in particular served as the impulses for this painting, Inclusion. First people who don't understand what it means to have a disability, may fear becoming disabled themselves. Consequently, they may choose not to socialize or work with people who look or function differently from themselves. Second, if a child is encouraged to ask a person with a disability why he or she speaks with an impairment, walks with a different gait or does anything that appears different, this child will grow up not fearing those who have differences. The more frequently all people are exposed to others who have disabilities of all types - physical, emotional , mental and environ-
mentally caused - the more comfortable everyone will feel. During the last eight months of interviewing and getting to know people from the disabled community, my negative biases and fears about people having disabilities have melted, validating Abby's premise that more exposure
leads to better understanding and valuable recognition of every person's contribution to society.
Throughout Inclusion, the yellow fish with multicolored markings represent the disabled community. the other schools of fish are symbols of people who don't have disabilities. As the yellow fish meet with the other schools of fish, the latter reflect the yellow fish's light. They illustrate
thethat the combination of different cultures composed of many striking colors enhances the lives of all. The title, Inclusion, indicates the need
for disabled community to blend into a broader society.
Abby's Prose and Poetry
Getting to Know Me
I've met obstacles, people not accepting me, job discrimination. People are afraid of difference and their own vulnerability. When you have a disability people have to get to know you to be comfortable. I want to encourage people not to be discouraged by discrimination from others .
Jewish people with disabilities have felt alienated and disenfranchised because of issues of access and acceptance. Even in the Bible, there are passages that say that "the blind, the lame and the crippled should not be let into the house of believers." These feelings go way, way back.
Once people in the Jewish community where made aware that there are Jews out there with disabilities who need services, they became more receptive to working with them. There's and element of fear that people have. That's the kind of barrier that needs to be broken down - an the only way to do that is with more interaction.
At Jewish Family and Children's Services we advocate for people who have been denied services or help people who need assistance with day -to-day support, crisis intervention, or finances.
The new JFCS effort provides a way to be disabled and Jewish. This was something that I had never experienced before. I felt I had to leave the whole Jewish experience behind. That is unfortunate because the "Jewish experience" is extremely important, not only for religious reasons.
Our overall goal is to make the Jewish community more accessible, not only architecturally but additudinally. If someone who uses a wheelchair wants to use a temple and can't event get in the front door, what does that say?
Although the Disabilities Project is less than a year old it has already made a big difference in people's lives. We are helping a university freshman who has cereberal palsy that affects the mobility of his hands.. His mother on the East Coast was referred to us via Hillel, and we were able to set up a volunteer to help with errands and laundry.
Working with people with disabilities is never simple. It's not like putting a Band-Aid on a cut. You need to know what to ask, how to probe, what else to look for. Having first-hand knowledge of what it is like to have a disability is a tremendous asset.
I touch your plastic key with my fingertip,
Your logic turns on.
My feelings turn on.
You can deduce, infer, rationalize.
I can love, hate, become angry.
Your logic is cold, calculating, unfeeling.
My feelings are warm, tranquilizing and tender.
Your life is a computation, a routine functioning.
My life is a poem, a spontaneous event.
This is the real world logician.
Let me melt our plastic coat.
Live closer to me.
Absorb my love.
Squeeze it back to me.
Don't store it in
your memory bank.
Your are alive.
Because when your plug is pulled,
You will be let with nothing.