Whatever you think you know about people with disabilities, forget it, and meet Vital Zinger, the woman who is radically shifting old fashioned stigmas about people with disabilities. She is creating a new conversation, not about “how I can’t walk, but what I can do, and what I can contribute as a person, not as a person with a disability.”
Zinger, born with a rare cancer, has been paralyzed since she was 3, in a wheelchair since she was 12, yet she stands up every day to advocate for inclusion and accessibility for all. Not only is Zinger a social activist, a lawyer and an inspiration, she is also a world medalist Latin dancer who has competed globally. She dances competitively for Israel’s Para DanceSport national team, and is decorated with a silver medal in the European Championship and a bronze in the World Championship.
Her activism began in high school when she wanted to study physics, which was located on the second floor. Both the school board and the building architecture were against her, and she was told to choose something else to study. Zinger was passionate about her desire to learn, and chose to fight for her right and opportunity for equal education. After one year, Zinger won and the school added an elevator. Of the victory, she says that “when they made my high school accessible…it meant that not only did I succeed for myself, but I left an accessible school – so others won’t have to fight the same fight again.”
Zinger continued her fight for inclusion when she was exempt from the Israeli Defense Forces because of being in a wheelchair. She understood that they perceived her as a person with a disability, as opposed to seeing all that she could contribute. Once again, she fought to join the services and won. She helped lay the groundwork for a more inclusive and accessible army experience, and was released with high honors for her service. “When you’re the first to fight for something it’s a lot harder, because you’re the first to try to convince them that this isn’t doing me a favor – it’s just the right thing to do.”
Today, Vital lives by herself, drives by herself, and is actively fighting the stigma that wheelchairs are weak. While there is a growing coalition of nonprofits and organizations fighting to serve people with disabilities, there is still a long way to go in being granted the same rights, both socially and accessibly, within Israeli society.
Technology and innovation will advance the field exponentially with 3D printers, autonomous cars, and hi-tech homes, but the main issue is still dealing with prejudice and stigma against people with disabilities. Vital is a true example of an agent of change, and she stays fueled by focusing on all of her capabilities and contributions, not what is commonly perceived as a disability.
“The fact that I can’t walk doesn’t mean I’m less of something. Today, it’s not a disadvantage, because we have so many accessories and technologies that we can bridge the lack of ability…I want people to stop being shocked when people with disabilities make something of their life.”