September 16, 2019

Living Life Beyond Her Disability

Photo by Ryan Torok

Bertha Schneider, 87 

Hearing she’d been selected for the Journal’s seniors issue, Bertha Schneider, who lives at the Los Angeles Jewish Home in Reseda, had her hair done specially for the occasion and sat perched in her wheelchair alongside her niece, Bonnie Schneider-Priever, for the interview. 

Schneider lives with a speech and vocal disability, the result of being dropped by her doctor when she born. Growing up, there weren’t many special needs services available to her, so Schneider never enrolled in school and never learned to read, write or improve her speech. Developmentally, she’s the equivalent of a 10-year-old, Schneider-Priever said.

Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Schneider, her parents and her six siblings moved to the Fairfax District in Los Angeles when Schneider was in her teens. Her parents died when she was in her 20s and Schneider moved in with her brother Melvin, who became her legal guardian. Schneider-Priever, Melvin’s daughter, said having Schneider around was a blessing. “I just remembered her always being there,” she said.

In her 30s, Schneider enrolled in a work-training program run by the Exceptional Children’s Foundation’s PAR (Packaging, Assembly and Rework) program, which provides job training and other services as an alternative to institutionalization for people with developmental disabilities. 

“She loves bingo and keeps her winnings in a heart-shaped box in her nightstand drawer, and has a passion for music, especially legendary entertainer Al Jolson.”

Working in Santa Monica before a transfer to Culver City, Schneider was picked up every day in a van and taken to a work site where she earned a paycheck doing assembly and packaging work, including putting caps on ketchup bottles. She worked from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and spent lunch socializing with her peers. 

As her condition worsened, she was transferred to a program that focused less on work training and more on activities, including field trips to the park, the library and doing volunteer work for a pet company.

While her niece had to clarify much of what Schneider said, the octogenerian spoke excitedly about the crime shows she enjoys watching on the TV in her bedroom: “Gun! Boom!” She also spoke about love (Schneider never married or had children but has 20 nieces and nephews), conveying that she wants to find a man with money. 

She also loves bingo and keeps her winnings in a heart-shaped box in her nightstand drawer, and has a passion for music, especially legendary entertainer Al Jolson. For this interview, she sang a song of her own, appearing to make up the words as she went along. And while the words may have been difficult to understand, her beaming smile spoke volumes.