Hillel event to promote awareness of accessibility in the community

'Breaking Barriers' event poster
'Breaking Barriers' event poster

Twenty-four-year-old Jackie Silver, currently pursuing a degree in nutrition at Toronto’s Ryerson University, was born with a physical disability that requires her to use a cane for short distances, and wheelchair for long distances. Last year, Silver, a member of Ryerson Hillel, attempted to attend an event it was organizing, but was met with a barrier many people in her position face daily: it wasn’t wheelchair-accessible.

Frustrated, Silver, an active member of the Jewish community, met with Mark Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario, to brainstorm what could be done to raise awareness of this issue. Newburgh responded that a student-driven initiative would be the most effective way to draw attention to the matter, and that Silver should put together a committee.

So she did.

After pairing up with Allysa Moses (associate director of Ryerson Hillel) and others, the committee have worked at bringing attention to the fact that, according to Silver, “there are day schools, kosher restaurants, stores and even synagogues that are not wheelchair-accessible.”

The fruit of their labour will culminate with a free event called Breaking Barriers, taking place on Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Wolfond Centre in Toronto. Register here.

“I feel it’s a bit of a taboo subject, particularly in the secular Jewish community,” Silver says in a phone interview with The CJN, “so I wanted to raise awareness of accessibility and get people talking about it.”

Ultimately, her goal is to educate people and, consequently, organizations so that all spaces within the community are inclusive. “I hope that people’s attitudes will change towards people with disabilities, and that they become more positive,” Silver says. “So it’s breaking physical barriers but also barriers in attitude.” Hence the event’s name.

For Breaking Barriers, Silver has lined up two inspirational speakers who have much to say on the subject: Maayan Ziv, a Ryerson alumnus and woman in wheelchair who developed Access Now, an app that allows you to search for specific locations with the accessibility features you require via an interactive map, and Luke Anderson, a structural engineer who, after a serious accident that forced him to require the use of a wheelchair, founded StopGap, a non-profit organization that supplies custom-made, portable ramps to local store owners to make storefronts accessible.

After a light dinner, Ziv and Anderson will each lecture on their individual stories while promoting inclusivity throughout the community at large.

“Accessibility is an issue not only in the Jewish community, but in the entire world,” says Silver. “I think the problem is that it’s not at the forefront of people’s minds. When people plan events, they don’t wonder first if it’s going to be accessible, and don’t realize that some people are going to be excluded.”