Making Inclusion a Reality
by Michal Moked-Rimon
Israel is known for many things – the land of milk and honey, holy sites, hi-tech, and history but in the past several Israel has been starting to be known for another aspect – a global leader in the field of accessibility. Instead of just dreaming about Israel, today Israel can become a reality for people with disabilities in Israel and abroad. There is still a long way to go but nonetheless the change for the better is evident. One of the leading organizations in Israel who plays an important role in making this change, making inclusion and accessibility a reality is Access Israel.
Access Israel was founded 19 years ago by Mr. Yuval Wagner and his friends. Yuval, was an Israeli pilot when in March 1987, during his military service, he was severely injured in a helicopter crash that left him quadriplegic. While recovering, Yuval realized that not only does he have to overcome the obvious obstacles of his severe injury, but also with never-ending challenges caused by an in-accessible country that constantly created obstacles and difficulties on a daily basis. Moreover, at the time there was no awareness in the Israeli society regarding importance of accessibility and inclusion, which together with the lack of physical accessibility led Yuval to feel as if he was in "house arrest". The frustration encouraged him to contact a fellow Pilot, President Ezer Weitzman to complain about this situation. Following the call, President Weitzman gave a direct command to establish an NGO and make a change. He assured Yuval that he, as the president, would support this important cause. And so - Access Israel was established in 1999.
Access Israel is the first and only non-profit organization in Israel dedicated to promoting accessibility for people living with all types of disabilities. Our objective is to allow people with physical, sensory, mental and cognitive disabilities to live a full and active life with dignity, respect, equality, safety and maximal independence.
Over 1.6 million people with disabilities live in Israel today (including elderly), 18% of the total population. Among them, some 700,000 individuals are confronting severe disabilities caused by combat injury, terrorist acts, car and work related accidents, and illness. Every tenth family in Israel requires accessible services. Despite advanced legislation, many locations and services in the country, such as government institutions, municipalities, courts, health clinics, public transportation, cultural institutions and commercial centers remain inaccessible to people with disabilities, causing great distress and hindering them from leading normal lives.
In the past 19 years Access Israel has worked hard on promoting physical accessibility at first, then we introduced the usability accessibility (accessibility of the services provided to the public) – understanding it is not enough to be able to enter a place, the importance is on ones’ ability to receive services like anybody else and be integrated into society as equals. Today we understand and work hard on promoting social accessibility – changing the DNA of our society – of our children in educational programs, of adults in training and awareness by promoting activities and more. Since it is obvious that the road to full accessibility is still long in Israel and abroad, Access Israel understood the importance of creating a human ramp. This ramp would encourage connection, opportunities to get to know the person behind the disability, providing a chance to see the world from the eyes of those with disability, developing sensitivity and better understanding on how each one of us can contribute to make a difference and together achieve better integration.
One of the most successful tools Access Israel developed is the Feast of the Senses dinner. Over the past five years, Access Israel has been spreading its message around the world, and has been holding "Feast of Senses" dinners, which are a way to stimulate the senses and introduce participants to experiences they never encountered before.
This is a unique experience that promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities. The event that enables participants to experience various disabilities, while getting to know a person that lives with the same disability – in each course of the meal one sense is "taken away" from you and you are able to experience that course with a disability. This enables participants to feel the challenges - first hand. The first course – you can not see, the main course you can not use your hands and the dessert you have to order without being able to hear the options from the waiter while getting a taste of sign language.
Everyone is invited to join us in spreading the word enabling Access Israel to promote accessibility and enable the State of Israel to reach any place and anyone based on a common denominator of giving, inclusion, patience, and tolerance. Leaving no one behind.
For more information on how you can help – please contact Michal Moked-Rimon, CEO of Access Israel – firstname.lastname@example.org
Media articles on the Feast of the Senses
Michal Moked-Rimon is the CEO of Access Israel.