IE Undertakes Groundbreaking Cooperative Venture

Over the last year, Israel Elwyn and Beit Issie Shapiro, another well regarded organization in the field of disability, began working together to help foster a self advocacy movement and leadership cadre among people with intellectual disabilities in Israel. Together, we believe this process, which has been evolving and developing over the past years, has the potential for success, advancing on two levels: in action groups at the local level and subsequently, on regional and even national levels.

The human rights approach to disability, espousing self advocacy groups of people with disabilities, began in 1968 in Sweden and expanded to the USA, Canada and elsewhere. Lead by people with intellectual disabilities, this movement's primary goals are to raise awareness and provide the tools that will enhance the ability of people with intellectual disabilities to organize, make their voice heard, represent themselves and act to promote their rights. The goal is to enable people with disabilities to be fully included in all aspects of life as equal citizens.

Self advocacy groups depend on the support of a professional facilitator. The central principle is that the group's members are themselves responsible for managing the group and making decisions. In that context, the "facilitator's" function is to concentrate on assisting the members and providing them with the tools to manage the group, to understand what their possibilities are, to make complicated information cognitively accessible, and similar non-intervening roles.

At group meetings, the members (who advocate for themselves) speak about real subjects and problems that concern them and suggest ways in which to achieve change. They assist each other in learning about and understanding their rights, and act together to achieve goals. Leaders spring up in each group and are a model for identification and imitation by the other members.

In recognition of this ground breaking work – and partnership of two professional agencies – the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recently awarded this emerging effort a generous grant to allow both agencies to foster these self-advocacy groups, train support facilitators and to help provide individuals with intellectual disabilities the requisite tools to grow this budding movement.

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