Meet the Accessibility Roundtable: Anne Prusky
Meet the Accessibility Roundtable: In this series, we’ll be getting to know the team members that make up this cross-departmental working group to improve OneTable’s accessibility (learn more about the Accessibility Roundtable here). Join Naomi (they/them), Miami Field Manager, and Anne Prusky (she/her), Manager of Development & Research, in a conversation about Anne’s story, why she joined the roundtable, and what she loves about this work.
How did you get involved in accessibility work?
In college, I made friends who were disabled or chronically ill for the first time. I started taking American Sign Language and Deaf Studies, and learning from the local Deaf community became central to my undergraduate education. I ended up designing my own major in college in order to incorporate all that I was learning about the way language impacts society and society impacts language.
I learned that part of being a responsible signer was being an advocate and ally to the Deaf community, which often meant shutting up (literally – AKA not using my voice – but more importantly, not positioning myself as an expert, and instead elevating words and thoughts of Deaf community members when it comes to issues that affect their community). I had never thought about the fact that I could hear as a privilege. This responsibility made me realize that I needed to uplift and advocate, and then step aside to make room for other folks to have their stories, experiences, and advocacy centered.
I also learned about the concept of Deaf Gain – the idea of Deafness as a positive, affirmative identity, rather than centering a “lack” or “loss” of hearing. This encouraged me to reframe my understanding of ability and disability and to shift to a cultural/social model that puts the onus on society to change and adapt, rather than putting pressure on the individual to conform.
What does accessibility mean to you?
When it comes to OneTable, I think we use the term accessibility in two ways that are often overlapping:
- Come as you are! You don’t have to be an expert to engage in this experience. For example, anyone at any level of Jewish fluency can arrive and plug into an offering of ours.
- Ability vs. disability: Thinking about inclusion, we want to ensure that the reality of people’s bodies and minds aren’t preventing them from engaging with Shabbat. And, further, we want to move into a realm of belonging — in that people’s full selves are contributing to and even improving an experience.
Normally, we think about these as two different pursuits, but at OneTable’s Accessibility Roundtable, we are thinking about these two concepts as pillars of the same mission.
There are all sorts of reasons one might experience a barrier to engaging with OneTable and Shabbat, and our team is working on creating a community in which everyone can show up as their full selves.
How does improving accessibility benefit the OneTable community?
Our OneTable community is stronger when we have a lot of different voices at the table. More diversity in a community brings new ideas and new inspiration. For example, if we’re creating a program and need to shift some aspect of it to accommodate one person — this can actually open a whole new world and allow creativity and ingenuity for everyone involved. In working to include one person or one group, we end up designing a system or program that is better for everybody.
This is known as the Curb Cut Effect. The “Curb Cut Effect” is the idea that an accommodation or adjustment for one person can end up benefiting other people that weren’t initially intended. Curb cuts were designed for people with wheelchairs, but they also help little kids get up on the sidewalk, make it easier to wheel groceries to your car…thanks to the activism of folks in wheelchairs, our streets are now more accessible for everybody.
What is a program or initiative you’ve been involved with at OneTable to improve accessibility?
I started at OneTable as the DMV Field Manager and one of my first programs was a Deaf Shabbat. It was co-organized with Tori Greene, who was the Miami Field Manager at the time, and Jacob Salem, Director of Hillel at Gallaudet. It was essentially a community Shabbat dinner that was ASL First. Usually, hearing and spoken language is centered and it was really awesome to create a space in which sign language, and the Deaf experience, was at the fore. I felt so lucky to be a part of that experience and to meet new friends through Shabbat!
The experience of bringing that to OneTable, and especially having my colleagues be so enthusiastic about it, inspired me to help found the Accessibility Roundtable, so that initiatives like this could move from being one-off to being integrated in how we develop programming.
What’s something you’re excited to learn more about?
I’ve been very grateful to learn somewhat about physical disabilities, but I know very little about intellectual disabilities. I used to think that this meant that I couldn’t be involved, but being on the Accessibility Roundtable has allowed me to learn about areas that I didn’t know so much about. I want to meet more people with intellectual disabilities, build community, and celebrate Shabbat together!
In what ways does the work of your specific department need to be mindful of accessibility needs?
In regards to the research part of my work, I collect stories and experiences from our users and find ways to share those discoveries based on their sharings. It’s important that that information is accessible to the people who shared those stories, particularly for an organization where research is so central, like OneTable. I feel a responsibility to make sure we share our findings back out in the world, in a way that many different folks can find meaningful. For example, that means thinking about people who haven’t taken a statistics class, and also ensuring that our charts are color coding-accessible. Sometimes screen readers have a hard time reading charts. It’s important to ensure that the info is also in a paragraph, so that if the visual doesn’t work for you, then you also have a verbal explanation. And vice versa.
When I think about my development work, I’m thinking about ways for our whole community — hosts and guests, donors, staff, partners, even those who went to a dinner ages ago and haven’t been back, but still think of Shabbat fondly — to be a part of shaping OneTable now and into the future. One of the things I love most about OneTable is that rather than guessing or prescribing what our community should do, we get a lot of feedback from our whole network, and we act on that feedback to serve our community better. I want us to keep making decisions in response to the diverse needs of our participants and shifting our programming to meet the needs that emerge. The elevation of this broad spectrum of thoughts is what stands out to me about OneTable’s pursuit of accessibility.