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Self-Advocacy Initiative Increases Scope

L-r standing:  Self-advocates Asaf Buzaglo, Avital Ohayun, Simona Idan, Shai Asuline, and Dudu Cheftzadi. Sitting:  Yoav Kreim,  well-known spokesperson for people with disabilities. (Credit:  Ruderman Family Foundation)

Self-advocates throughout the world have long demanded:  “Nothing about us without us!”

Israel Elwyn’s vision foresees a society in which people with disabilities will be citizens with equal rights; a society in which we all aspire to determine our own future and way of life.

The movement for individuals with disabilities to advocate for themselves has been gaining momentum in numerous countries throughout the world for the past thirty years, but until several years ago, Israel’s self-advocacy movement (at least for individuals with intellectual disabilities) had lagged behind.  At that time, Israel Elwyn and Beit Issie Shapiro, two leading Israeli organizations that provide services for people with disability, embarked upon a joint project to foster the development of self-advocacy groups for people with intellectual disability throughout Israel.  The goal:  to provide people with disabilities with the tools they need to speak out for themselves in all aspects of their lives.

This month, self-advocate group leaders and the facilitators who assist them in making information accessible to members of self-advocacy groups, completed their training in the second set of courses held in the past two years.  A total of 20 group leaders with intellectual disabilities and 20 professional facilitators have been trained in this innovative enterprise.  Ten self-advocacy groups having a total of 100 participants have been established in Jerusalem, Be’er Sheba, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Ra’anana and Hadera.  Six of these groups are led by group leaders who have intellectual disabilities and who have undergone the abovementioned training.

Baruch Levy recently completed the self-advocacy group leaders’ course.  He explained what this means to him.  “Our group in Israel Elwyn’s Jerusalem Supported Living Program, where I live, can discuss whatever we want, such as renovations we think are necessary and choosing recreation activities. After each person says what he or she wants, we write a letter and give it to the staff.  Then we set up a meeting between the staff and the group.  At the end of each self-advocates group meeting, I ask the members to think about subjects to discuss next time.”

Orit, an IE professional who is undergoing facilitator training, assists Baruch’s self-advocacy group.  “At first, I was concerned about which subjects would arise, what the group dynamic would be, and whether the members of the group would truly take part.  To my surprise, they did, raising dilemmas from daily life.  After discussion, the group decided to raise these subjects with IE’s senior management.  On a personal level, taking the facilitators training course has helped me to fully adopt IE’s vision for real self-advocacy by individuals with disabilities.”

Both Simona and Yechiel, who have intellectual disabilities, took the group leaders’ course and plan to lead self-advocacy groups in the near future in Herzliya.  In their thirties, they have been living together as a couple for the past four years.  They feel that they have learned a lot through first participating in a self-advocacy group and then taking the group leaders’ course.  On a personal level, they hope their newly acquired skills will help them achieve a major goal:  to get married.

Yechiel states, “Finally I can talk with my mother about the things that are important to me.  First, she objects to our marrying.  Now that I know I have the right to wed, I’ve told her she needs to hear what I’m saying and what I want.  Second, I have worked hard for years and want to use my earnings for a trip overseas.  I was finally able to talk with her about it and she has agreed.  I also met new people in the group and learned about a lot of other important things.”

“I have the right to marry if I want to,” says Simona, “and no one can simply ignore what I am thinking and feeling.  Today I am able to support Yechiel when he speaks with his mother about what is important to him.”

The joint IE-Beit Issie Shapiro program of fostering self-advocacy groups throughout Israel is made possible by the generous support of the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

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We'd love to hear from you! Also, please let us know in advance of your next trip to Israel and we will give you a tour of the Israel Elwyn programs.

You can also contact one of our North American offices: United States: (267) 225-5132 or Canada: (416) 649-1655.

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David B. Marcu, Chief Executive Officer

IE's mission is to develop and provide a wide array of supports and tools for people with disabilities, while constantly striving for excellence of service and the creation of a just society. Together with people with disabilities and society at large, we shall continue working as an innovative and cutting-edge organization.

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