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Israel Elwyn Staff Learns from Service Recipients

March 2017


Israel Elwyn (IE) regards itself as a learning organization and actively seeks out opportunities to expand staff knowledge on a range of subjects relating to the world of disability.  No less important is the opportunity to allow us to see how we act towards our service recipients and where we can improve, based on their reactions and comments. Included among other forums for learning are IE's "Learning Colleagues" gatherings, held at IE's Academy for Continuing Education in Jerusalem. On these days, over 100 members of senior staff and professionals from within the organization come from around the country to learn, network and share.

The last such event took place this month and included watching and discussing the film Inside I'm Dancing, which deals with the journey to independence of two young men with disability.  Michael has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and has some upper body mobility, but most people find it difficult to understand his speech.  He has spent most of his life in supported environments and enjoyed very little independence and tends to accept the hand that fate has dealt him.  Rori has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness.  After having lived independently, he now uses a motorized wheelchair and has reached the stage at which he needs substantive supports in most activities of daily life but rebels against the enforced conformity arising from his dependence.  Michael and Rori develop a mutually beneficial relationship and make a formidable pair, who together are able to achieve their separate dreams of living in their own apartment in the community.

Present at the gathering were nine service recipients from IE's Supported Living Services and Supported Employment Program, all of whom also participate in IE's Self-Advocacy Project*.  The nine had seen the movie in advance, which was made accessible by translation and explanations from staff members.  These self-advocates also discussed their reactions, made comparisons with their own circumstances, and drew conclusions about changes they would like to see in their own lives.  Among their comments:

  • Residents of the Supported Living Services spoke about having more choice regarding which staff members would accompany them for shopping or recreational activities:  "I want to choose who goes where with me," said one. 

  • "Everyone should have privacy during physical exams or treatments," the self-advocates said about a scene in which one of the leading characters is observed by quite a few staff while being examined.  The men also said they were glad that only male support providers are present when they shower or dress, contrary to the situation in the film.

  • During one scene, the residents of the supported living facility gather to listen to a musical performance, when it's obvious they aren't enjoying the music and that the only people who are, are the director and staff.  The residents of IE's Supported Living Services compared this with the changes they have initiated in the types of activities from which they can choose.

  • They did not approve of a leading character's rudeness to his support provider.

At the Learning Colleagues gathering, the service recipients were joined by professional staff.  After watching the film together, the entire audience was divided into small groups to discuss the film, their understandings and their thoughts, based on each person's own experiences.

The lessons learned and comments of the service recipients will be passed on to the entire staff of IE's branches and programs, who will also have the opportunity to see and discuss the film.


*   Israel Elwyn partnered several years ago with Beit Issie Shapiro, another Israeli nonprofit working with people with intellectual disabilities, to initiate a national self-advocacy project.  The aim of the ongoing initiative is to help these individuals acquire the knowledge they need to make their voices heard and become well-versed in their rights and responsibilities as Israeli citizens.  Eleven groups comprised of an average of ten participants each currently operate in Israel.  In the last year, a national group was established to represent the local groups and work on issues of interest to a broad group of persons with disabilities.  The national group participates in Knesset committee meetings and has already had a significant influence on committee members and legislation.  The Self-Advocacy Project is operated in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

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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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