When I was a little girl I would dream about what other little Jewish girls would dream about. I played house with my dolls and I would dream about growing up, getting married and having children. But as I got older – as a 12-13 year old – I got stuck in an institution and that was society’s way of telling me that my dreams were not realistic.
Society, back then in the 1960s, was very different than it is today. To lock someone away in a prison-like environment because they’re mentally challenged was common back then. It was horrible. Places like that don’t exist anymore, Baruch Hashem.
I was diagnosed with an intellectual disability (back then,"as mentally retarded") but that was not a correct diagnosis. That’s how primitive the diagnostic techniques were back then. How little they knew. Even people who are retarded are probably capable of doing more than what they thought back then.
Fast forward to now, 2015. I am glad that the “New Normal” is giving people hope. There’s most definitely a wonderful change how the Jewish community views mentally and physically challenged people. We’re not just stuck in a corner.
Gloria Estefan, the singer, had a big accident some years ago and wrote about "coming out into the light." The New Normal blog is an example of the disabled coming out into the light. The disabled people are people. The New Normal has helped. We have a voice. We’ve made a lot of changes in the way society views us. Maybe we can still make more positive changes. We’re not stuck in institutions and now we’re part of the community.
Now, we live in places like Ateret Avot where we’re part of the Jewish community. I have visitors all the time. I’ve met so many wonderful people who see me as an inspiration. Based on what my friends tell me, I’ve made very real contributions. They’re learned a lot about people with challenges.
I spent two years in a state-run institution for the severely disabled. From what I heard, it was like Willowbrook. One particular moment stands out to me at Eastern. I was punished because I had an accident and was not allowed to see my parents. I was locked in my room. Compare that to now. Could I ever have imagined back then that I’d be published, that I’d be a speaker and that I’d be a voice for the Jewish disabled community? If the doctors who misdiagnosed me could see me now. If they could read my writings they’d be shocked, astounded.
My mother would be so proud. (She passed away five years ago). I read my articles and look at her picture and say, “Mom, do you believe that your little girl who once struggled with writing her name now writes articles for newspapers?”
Phyllis Lit has an ever evolving and strengthening connection with Hashem that has helped her with her challenges including having cerebral palsy and being dyslexic. Two of her inspirational stories about her “journey to faith” have been published and she has been the guest speaker at an Emunah of America group. She is in the forefront of helping to start an organization that would provide funding to help people with special needs have a good living environment.