Board Meeting - Lauren Beller

Edward Hoffman

- What do you do for a living? 

I’m a special ed teacher, but I don’t teach full time for lots of different reasons.  Some are due to disability, some about issues in the District.  I am now employed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as a LEND fellow.  The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities is dedicated to improving the systems of care for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and chronic health conditions. This interdisciplinary fellowship training program is for healthcare professionals and family members of children with chronic medical or developmental conditions.

LEND fellows are trained to become leaders in the many professions that work together to improve the lives of children and youth with special needs, and their families.  I am the first fellow to be brought on as a self-advocate to help professionals and families learn more about what rights and responsibilities exist for people with disabilities.  My goal is to empower youth with various disabilities to develop their voice and use it to empower others and become leaders themselves.  I also hope to show healthcare professionals how important their framing of disability as a natural part of human existence is.  Parents NEED to hear that it isn't all tragic, and frankly, it is very rarely all tragic. 

I also work with PEAC - Pennsylvania Education for All Coalition, Inc.  I’m involved in the self-advocacy network – SAN – which I helped start.  We train and pay self-advocates so that adults with disabilities go out and share their stories at universities and conferences to teach about inclusion: how to do it and how not to do it.

- What is your Jewish background?

I was raised Reconstructionist.  My family was never extremely observant – my mom’s side was more traditional, dad’s side leaned more toward Reform.  We went to services on Shabbat when we could, and High Holidays.  My brother and I were bar and bat mitzvah, and were confirmed, but until I went to Israel in 2007 my connection with Judaism was not too strong.  I didn’t feel a personal connection to it.  But when I went to Israel on Birthright - the first and only trip they did for people with disabilities.  My mom was never able to go on Birthright.

- Too old, I guess.  Like me.

But the way the trip was set up for people with disabilities, I got to bring an aide with me, and the only guideline I had was same sex, so I brought my mom.  It was really cool.  I got to go to Israel with my mom on Birthright!  Getting around takes longer with a chair, so it was 11 days instead of 10, and they picked places that were accessible.  There were some rough patches, but ultimately I got to see this place that I never expected to be able to go.  In that moment, it hit me.  I expected to enjoy it and be amazed, but I never expected to have an emotional connection.  When we entered Jerusalem, we went to a lookout over the city.  There was a small band, with someone playing an African hand drum.  I went up and talked to him and asked him whether there was any way I could play it, and he let me.  So I got to play the drum, which is very emotional for me because it is how I express myself when I don’t know how to express myself.  People started dancing, and that was something else too.

- Are there particular progressive causes that interest you?

Absolutely.  LGBTQ issues are important, education and particularly special education – how do we do that better.  I’m a big proponent of elevating voices of minority groups, and people whose voices are generally suppressed.  I think one of the things I bring to the Board that I’d like to see us find a space for is a discussion about disability rights.  Looking at the different Policy Centers we have, right now it’s not something that’s in there.  It’s a big issue, that’s not widely talked about and understood by most people.  It’s the one minority that could affect anybody in the population at any time – doesn’t care about race, religion, age, ethnicity, it can get you when you’re born, it can get you later on, it can be temporary or permanent; it’s the largest minority.  Most people experience disability at some point in their lives; it’s relevant to everyone yet we don’t talk about [or] understand it.

- When you are not thinking about JSPAN, what are your other interests?

First and foremost, I have two parrots and they run my life.  Eli is an African Grey, and Popcorn is an Indian Ringneck.  Popcorn was abused as a chick, and I rescued her; she has epilepsy, and is kind of standoffish.  When I’m home, it’s all about them.  I’m very passionate about music, I’m a video gamer, and I’m a big-time reader.  I volunteer at the Wooden Shoe bookstore, a nonprofit anarchist bookshop that sells radical literature.  All proceeds go towards either activism in the city or furthering radical missions.  We have poetry readings, open mics, authors, musical artists, book clubs, movies.  It is a cool and safe space for anybody.

- What book is presently on your night table?

”My Friend Dahmer,” a graphic memoir by a guy who grew up with the famed serial killer.

- Thank you.