26 February 2018
By Heidi Krizer Daroff, North America Director of The Israel Forever Foundation
I received an alert on my phone about Israeli Air Force pilots ejecting out of their fighter jet during an escalation in the northern part of the country. One pilot was slightly wounded, the other severely injured. My thoughts went immediately to the pilot’s family and then to another pilot who was severely wounded many years ago, Yuval Wagner.
After Yuval’s accident, his life was instantly changed. Thankfully, he survived his crash, but being left paraplegic meant his day-to-day life and his interactions with the world around him would never be the same.
Having a disability sometimes means one’s access to most of the things many people take for granted are harder to come by or simply do not exist.
When you have a child with a cognitive or physical disability it is difficult to find a summer camp that will A) provide proper attentive counselors and care and B) offer the same opportunities at the same price for all campers.
People with physical or cognitive disabilities are often overlooked for everyday tasks either because entrances lack accessible options, or the sounds and lights are too disturbingly stimulating, or staff lack the proper training and empathy leaving their customers with disabilities ignored and isolated.
Added to this isolation was the inability of young Israelis with disabilities to join the Israeli military, as is required of all typically developing youth. For far too long having a disability meant an automatic exemption from serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Unfortunately, that also meant automatic exemption from the social and employment opportunities that naturally arise for those who have served in the IDF.
This lack of opportunity made it even more difficult for people with disabilities to find adequate employment so they can prosper and live more independently.
So far, I have presented a very bleak picture but thanks to extraordinarily dedicated people in Israel, today having a disability, while still wrought with challenges, does not instantly mean a life of isolation and exclusion.
In recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, The Israel Forever Foundation has assembled an Inclusive Israel packet. This packet proudly invites you to learn more about the individuals and organizations who are literally improving lives not just for those with disabilities and their families but for the entire Israeli society because we all benefit when everyone has a chance to contribute.
Explore the packet to see what Yuval and others are accomplishing, including an accessible playground, summer camp opportunities, service in the IDF and real job prospects. Then, think about how we can build on our awareness and inclusion efforts to carry us far beyond the month of February.