Access Israel recently set up accessibility patrols in the cities of Israels geographic periphery, initially in Eilat and Hadera, and then in towns in the Galilee, Haifa and the Krayiot area. The purpose of these patrols was to encourage people to examine their environments and offer improvements to make them more accessible, both for them and for all those who have disabilities, explains Access Israel CEO Michal Rimon, adding that the accessibility patrols activities have been helping people with disabilities in Israels periphery beyond simply promoting physical accessibility; their activities give the groups members the power to effectuate change and to understand that they have rights like any other citizen. They learn to obtain the things they deserve in a positive and empowering manner, and realize that they are capable of taking care of themselves.
The NGO reached out to people who havent left their homes for years except for medical purposes, and to people who didnt have friends and never took part in afternoon activities. Every activity conducted by our organization advocates inclusion – true inclusion of people with disabilities in Israeli society. Therefore, when we founded the first patrols, it was clear they would be composed of both people with and without disabilities and that they would include all kinds of disabilities, says Yuval Wagner, founder and Chairman of Access Israel.
The groups members survey their hometowns, examine existing accessibility arrangements and suggest improvements. One can already see the significant changes that have been made, with participating cities becoming more accessible. Most importantly, municipal leaders started to understand the needs of people with disabilities in their community and are now prepared to adapt the urban environment out of an understanding that they are equals.
When Access Israel began operating in the periphery, they realized that many people were very lonely. It took long weeks and many home visits to convince people with disabilities to leave their homes and try the unique specially-adapted activities, since it was all new and unfamiliar to them, relates Noga Sivan, project manager in the north. When they finally joined an activity, they were exposed to a new world and new friendships.
Nightly enrichment classes were held, including a cooking class where a blind woman first realized that an egg has both a white part and a yolk, and even managed to separate the two; she had never before tried to cook anything because no one had ever expected her to. The participants acquired basic life skills as well as experiencing the simple joy of being part of a group of equals who might have to live with disabilities but not with solitude.
The added value these community members were given is far more than promoting physical accessibility. Real friendships were made, and when dealing with people who rarely left their homes, this is a truly life-changing project, concludes Rimon.
Access Israel hopes to continue empowering existing groups and to establish new ones in order to help more people lead independent, active and inclusive lives and to promote accessibility all over Israel.
A groundbreaking organization
Access Israel was founded in 1999, and has been working since then to improve the quality of life of people with all kinds of disabilities in Israel, including physical, sensory, cognitive, developmental and mental disabilities. Today, there about 1.6 million people with disabilities living in Israel (around 20% of the population) and Access Israel promotes their inclusion in society with equality, respect and independence – the foundations of democracy.
Since its founding, Access Israel has led an accessibility revolution in Israel and contributed significantly to the quality of life of over 700,000 people with disabilities and their families. It is a groundbreaking organization that works to make businesses, public spaces and academic institutions accessible. The foundations achievements stem from a myriad of innovative projects to raise awareness, and an ongoing struggle to educate youth, sponsor accessibility legislation, promote accessibility on the Internet and more.
To take part in Israels accessibility revolution and for more information about Access Israel: www.aisrael.org, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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