Fighting for Independence

self-relianceBy Ziv Azmanov

An important part of my time is invested in a great program called A3i. This is the world’s first startup accelerator that is solely dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

The purpose of A3i is to encourage and assist entrepreneurs to realize their ideas that aim to solve problems, and address the important needs of people with disabilities. The goal is to create a more inclusive society where people with special needs can lead a normal life like each and every one of us.

I serve this program as a member of its steering committee, as well as a mentor to some of the entrepreneurs. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my life.

It’s so refreshing and inspiring to meet entrepreneurs that really want to make a difference. That are not driven by hype or financial rewards. It also reminds me time and time again what really matters in life, and how we take so many things, like our health, and personal independence for granted.

I recently met with one of the startup teams for our weekly mentorship session. We discussed the unique value proposition of their idea (we use the “Lean Startup” concept and Business Model Generation as our framework). I asked them to try and put themselves in the shoes of their target “customers”, and imagine how their lives will be different after they start using their proposed product, and why. What significant impact would that product have on the lives of their customers?

And then one of them said: “independence.” And that’s when it hit me. How we take this basic need for granted. We are so used to being independent in our lives. We can go anywhere; choose what to do and when; dress ourselves in any clothes we want; communicate with other people at will; shop for what we need. It’s hard for us to imagine our lives without this basic independence.

But that’s not the case for people with disabilities. They are not independent. Far from it. Moreover, their dependency on others is also adversely affecting their dignity and self-esteem. Many of them are courageously fighting for their own independence. But they need others to join that fight.

We need more programs like A3i and more entrepreneurs who are willing to make the commitment and sacrifices that are required in fighting for the everyday independence of people with disabilities, the same independence that we enjoy and have come to take for granted.

Ziv Azmanov is a Mentor and Steering Committee Member of A3i – Accelerating Inclusion in Israel, an accelerator run by PresenTense Israel and Beit Issie Shapiro, in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation and Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. This article is cross-posted from Ziv’s blog.

Cross-posted with PresenTense Blog