Access Israel was founded in 1999 by Yuval Wagner, a former helicopter pilot who became quadriplegic in an accident. Yuval learned the hard way how inaccessible Israel was and decided to do something about it. He contacted the former Israeli President Ezer Weizman, asking for help, but not expecting an answer. Not only did the President himself call Yuval and apologize in the name of the country, but he encouraged Yuval to form an organization to create a social change, promising that “the President's Office has your back.” Yuval did so, and months later Access Israel was inaugurated in the President's residence. Since then, Access Israel has worked tirelessly to create a world that is inclusive and accessible to everyone.
Accessible and inclusive
Access Israel has developed various projects that won international awards, such as awareness raising campaigns, education projects, accessibility trainings for teachers and service providers and accessible business models. One of its flagship projects, Making the Future Accessible, entails ensuring that every aspect of society is accessible – not just buildings. This requires a holistic approach, from raising awareness to giving people the tools to make their community inclusive. Furthermore, as we become an increasingly technological society, it is important to ensure that technologies will be accessible from day one. If not, the social gap will only widen and exclude people with disabilities even more.
In the last two decades, Israel made a lot of progress to be accessible and inclusive, from extensive legislation to bringing accessibility to the forefront of the public discourse. Although there is still a long way to go, Israel has a lot to offer in the international accessibility field. Indeed, the “Start-Up Nation” developed accessibility technologies that are used around the world. These technologies together with the advanced legislation, successful practices and Israel’s unique requirement that service providers undergo annual accessibility training can be adapted globally, as more countries turn towards Access Israel to learn from them.
Aware of this potential, Access Israel organizes annual international conferences and presents its methodologies around the world. In the last year alone, Access Israel has been invited to speak at the UNWTO in Russia and Kazakhstan, the UN, Expo2020 in Dubai, a GSA event in the US, conferences in Latin America, India, Turkey, Austria, Myanmar and UK, and more.
Access Israel recently launched the US-based Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) to further its work. FAISR was warmly welcomed in the summer of 2019 at the residence of President Reuven Rivlin, on the occasion of Access Israel's 20th Anniversary. In 2020, FAISR sponsored the first ever accessible and inclusive Mount Kilimanjaro climb.
Accessibility is a topic that transcends politics. It is a universal issue that goes beyond geographical and socio-economic barriers, religion and ethnicity. Every country around the world has people with disabilities and special needs, and should find the best way to create an accessible and inclusive society. This creates opportunities for Israel to strengthen international cooperation and mutual learning.
Disproportionally affected by the pandemic
The Covid-19 crisis emphasized this opportunity for cooperation. People with disabilities are disproportionally affected by the pandemic, not just in Israel but around the world. While each country is trying to develop the best methods to overcome these challenges, Access Israel decided to organize monthly international webinars to work together, share best practices and learn from one another, with the goal to make lemonade out of the coronavirus lemon. The webinars have been very successful, with over 500 participants from over 85 countries, including participants from countries that usually avoid being associated with an Israeli organization, all coming together to tackle the challenges of people with disabilities during the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic exemplifies the interconnectedness of the world, as we all face the same challenges brought by the virus and try to find the best way to overcome them.
By now, it has become evident that we won't go back so quickly to the “old normal.” Things that the accessibility community was told for years are not possible, such as remote employment, now have suddenly become possible due to Covid-19. This presents an opportunity to build a new and better reality, which is accessible and inclusive for all. Let us use this opportunity to create a better “post-Covid reality” by coming together, learning from one another and working together to create a better tomorrow.