Israel Has a Lot to Celebrate!

By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Israel has a lot to celebrate – and we can and should take the time to kvell. A big part of the success is how Israel leads the world on several key innovations when it comes to disability.

I know that you’ve likely seen ReWalk, the exoskeleton that enables people who are paralyzed to “walk.” But what you may not know is that recently five Israeli organizations were given Zero Project Awards at the United Nations for their breakthrough work on helping people with disabilities. How do I know this? I was honored to be there to accept an award on behalf of RespectAbilitity. However, one of the best parts of being in Vienna to accept our award was that I got to meet more than 30 unbelievably driven, giving and fantastic Israelis who are on the front lines of improving the lives of people with disabilities. Hence, I’d like to share information with you on these leaders and their groups so you can kvell!

StepHear: In 2011 the Israeli start-up company Step-Hear launched an app that provides orientation and audio messaging for people who are blind or visually impaired and for people with physical disabilities. Installed on a smart phone, it enables users to find their way in public surroundings using Audio-signs (radio signals that provide voice communications, guidance, and information) and pre-placed Beacons (radio transmitters that send Bluetooth signals). Users can call for help in an emergency and they can communicate with public transport personnel. As of 2018, Step-Hear has placed more than 3,500 Audio signs throughout Israel and plans to install the system for public transportation on at least 20 public transit lines in 2019. It’s like Waze, but for people with disabilities, and it’s very exciting!

Bizchut – the Israel Human Rights Centre for People with Disabilities – is a nonprofit organization based in Jerusalem that supports people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities as well as autism to retain control over important life decisions, with the assistance of trained professionals and volunteers. From 2014 to 2018, approximately 2,300 individuals have received training and 50 have received supported decision-making services. Based on the experiences of this model, the Government of Israel has since amended national guardianship laws and is carrying out two replication pilots. This means that many more Israelis with disabilities are gaining their rights and independence.

Enosh (The Israeli Mental Health Association) is a nonprofit organization and the largest provider of community mental health services in Israel. Enosh has developed training on trauma and a trauma-informed housing model to support women with psychosocial disabilities who live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of sexual abuse. Their four shared apartments that house people with mental health disorders who are victims of abuse offer a safe environment with support from staff who have received training in sexual trauma and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). Most Enosh staff members will have received the trauma training by the end of 2018, and in 2019 the organization plans to offer programs to beneficiaries too.

JDC and Israel Unlimited – Personal budget model: In 2015, Israel Unlimited, a partnership between the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Government of Israel and the Ruderman Family Foundation, started a personal budget model for people with disabilities by organizing workshops with leaders and policy makers from Israel and the United States to learn about the person-centred approach. Although the concept of a personal budget is an established practice in the United States and parts of Europe, it is new for Israel. Between 2016 and 2018, some 200 professionals have been extensively trained and 50 people with a variety of disabilities have benefitted. In 2019, another 300 beneficiaries will join the program.

Volunteering for a Change” is a partnership between Israel’s Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Social Welfare and Social Services and NGO Israel Elwyn, run by the Israeli branch of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The program provides a supportive framework for high school students with disabilities to engage in meaningful volunteer work. It arranges the training of target groups, such as school coordinators and NGO staff, and provides briefings on how to manage volunteers with disabilities. The partners develop relevant roles for youth with special needs so that volunteers can have meaningful placements. By 2018, Volunteering for a Change had trained some 200 students and 500 professionals.

As we celebrate Israel’s independence it’s great to celebrate its leadership globally as well!

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is co-founder of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Fund and of RespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities.