Some are invisible because they integrate among the crowd, others are invisible because they are unable to leave their homes and there are those who are visible whom many of us choose not to see. They are young, old, men, women, teens, Jewish, Moslem, Christian; they are our neighbors, family and friends.
They are the 25,000 registered blind people of all ages in Israel and the many thousands with visual impairment, limiting their mobility, employment, social interaction, access to education, culture and sport and general daily functioning. Many of those with vision impairment overcome challenges, forced upon them and their families, by the outreach and practical solutions offered by the Israel Center for the Blind.
The Israel Center for the Blind is a platform representing and incorporating the efforts of 80 non-profit organizations nationwide, each one active for those with vision impairment. The Center prides itself in its compassionate and open-door approach to both individuals and groups who need assistance and expertise in order to secure their rights, to access knowledge of technological aids, to benefit from opportunities to enjoy and participate in cultural, sport and leisure activities, all of which improve their quality of life.
No-one is invisible to those at the Center. Whether it is the vision impaired young man who wants to seek his independence and live alone but needs guidance as to rental contracts and financial benefits, or the 12-year old boy who lost his sight due to cancer, and thanks to the Center’s speedy intervention, was ensured financial and practical assistance, aids and extra teaching hours so that he is able to participate at school and stay with his peers. Whether it is a child in kindergarten who requires specialized equipment or the elderly woman who needs to adapt her way of life due to failing sight, the Center will champion their cause.
The Center concentrates its efforts in four main areas:
Advocacy is one of the main pillars of the Center’s work. It has impacted on thousands of lives by influencing government policies, challenging practices in the High Courts and highlighting the needs of those who are neither seen nor heard. The quest for quality of life and social equality for the visually impaired and their families are two of the main driving forces for the Center, which tirelessly continues to champion each one’s cause with compassion, understanding and modesty.
By working together with legislators, local and central government officials and representatives of national institutions such as the National Insurance Authority, the Center is championing the needs of those with vision impairment and placing their needs on the public agenda. Their rights and issues need voicing and protecting as they feel voiceless and helpless against the establishment. The Center provides that voice and understanding as they represent them and enable fair and appropriate legislation and protection in law.
The Center for the Blind raises public awareness in order to understand the needs, appreciate the abilities and raise the status of those with vision impairment. In order to develop public support and empathy, they promote Blind Day, an annual day of identification with the daily issues confronting those with vision loss. Blind Day reaches all levels of activity, including sessions being held at the Knesset, extensive national media attention, community and local activities, and all kicked off by the President of Israel demonstrating the importance and relevance of this day.
Blind Day is the culmination of the year’s activities and education programs and training in constituent organizations. In addition, throughout the year, information is updated and is available to the public and those with vision impairment. Information empowers and leads to independence, empathy and, thereby, an improvement of services and quality of life.
Blind New World
A third area is called Blind New World, Assistive Technology and Resources. Technological advancements are widening the scope of everyone’s experiences and the world of the visually impaired is no different.
The national headquarters house a one-stop shop providing the latest and most successful tools, equipment and accessories enabling improved functioning at home, work and leisure for those with vision impairment. The showroom in Tel Aviv provides advice and training as well as a repair center for the technological and practical devices. By employing the appropriate devices and technology, it is possible to dramatically improve the quality of life, access to work and social activities, mobility, independence and personal security for those with vision impairment.
Lastly but by no means of lesser importance is Time Out, which creates opportunities and participation for those with vision impairment in cultural activities, sports and leisure time, for an improved quality of life. Currently, the majority of those with vision impairment are excluded from cinemas, theaters and sporting events due to those venues not installing technological systems, now available, which allow for audio accompaniment and access enabling those with vision impairment to enjoy and participate together with the wider audience. Some 250,000 people could be added to potential audiences should the necessary equipment be in place. From soccer and tennis matches to opera and theater performances, access is possible providing there is an investment in the communication.
The Center’s role is to establish the equipment required as standard and not the exception. The results would be an improved quality of life for the participants and economic advantages for the events just by having the right equipment in place for all.
Currently, the message that those with vision impairment receive is one of exclusion. This could be so easily be reversed to one of inclusion, demonstrating Israel as a caring and enlightened society, providing access for all.
These four areas mentioned above ensure those with visual impairment greater visibility in our communities, places of work, our leisure centers and more – increasing the quality of life for their families and the wider community. Support for the Israel Center for Blind is support for inclusion, quality of life and compassion.