Yoav Kraiem Receives Henry Viscardi Achievement Award After Israel Elwyn’s Nomination

Israel Elwyn recently submitted the name of Yoav Kraiem, a renowned Israeli advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, and a person with a disability, as a candidate for the 2013 Henry Viscardi Achievement Award. This award was established by the New York-based Henry Viscardi Center, "in honor of Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., a visionary advocate for people with disabilities and to identify and recognize contemporary members of the global disability community who through their actions and achievements have, are or will profoundly impact the quality of life of people with disabilities."

Upon receiving the award, Kraiem stated:
"I am honored and excited to receive the Henry Viscardi Achievement Award, which is important for the recognition it provides for the acceptance of all individuals, and of the belief in the ability of people with disabilities to be a part of the human mosaic as contributing members of society. We are approaching the Jewish holiday of Passover, the central story of which reflects the delivery of the people of Israel from slavery and their long and difficult journey towards freedom. At this time we are obligated to remember that we were once slaves and thus have a special responsibility to ensure that individuals and groups suppressed by societal systems be freed. My colleagues and I, from various organizations of and for people with disability, devote our lives to this goal. We know that this path demands perseverance along what is at times a lonely road, but remain true to our inner compass leading us to the better world we wish to achieve."

Yoav Kraiem was born with cerebral palsy and today uses a wheelchair. Not yet 40 years of age, Kraiem has been active for the past 20 years in the fight for legislation to advance the rights of people with disabilities in Israel, including the Law for Equality (parallel to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the USA) and the Law for Inclusion.

In 1999 and 2000 Kraiem was one of the leaders of demonstrations staged by people with disabilities and their supporters to advance and implement their legislative rights. After demonstrating for over two months – in all forms of weather – at the entrance to the Israeli Ministry of Finance, the movement achieved increased disability allowances and expanded rights for people with disabilities while changing public opinion by making people see those with disabilities as an integral part of society. Kraiem, who was the spokesperson for that struggle, became a well known public figure by virtue of the media coverage of the struggle. He later acted as an observer on the government-established Laron Commission, headed by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, which in April 2005 published its report regarding the status of people with disabilities in Israel and the promotion of their inclusion in society. The Commission concentrated on recommendations that would lead toward improving the quality of life of people with disabilities and to their inclusion in society. It made major recommendations regarding employment, focusing on encouraging employment, which constitutes a basis for improvements in all other areas of life. Commission members believed that persons with disability must be afforded a wider degree of participation as a solution to their problems and indicated the need for policies based on consideration and the promotion of autonomy and self empowerment. In addition, the work of the Laron Commission directly led to a major reform in the National Insurance Institute’s (Israel’s Social Security Administration) policies which eliminated the situation in which individuals who earned more at work would take home less due to a concurrent reduction in their disability benefits. In 2003, Kraiem was a candidate for election to the Israeli Knesset (parliament).

Kraiem works for the inclusion of children with disabilities in the regular school system and runs school workshops to raise awareness of disability. He was also a partner in creating a character that uses a wheelchair for Israel television's Sesame Street series, based on the American show.

Kraiem continues to remain in the public eye as spokesman of the Israeli Human Rights Organization of People with Disabilities and currently serves as the Chairperson of the National Council for Community Rehabilitation – Mental Health (a division of the Ministry of Health). In addition to this position, Kraiem also:

  • works with self advocacy groups of individuals with intellectual disabilities in Israel Elwyn's joint project with Beit Issie Shapiro;
  • works with multi-disability management groups in the Gvanim Association;
  • teaches courses in the School of Occupational Therapy at Ono Academic College, as well as in the School of Social Work at Tel-Hai College in the North of Israel.

Kraiem has been recognized for his efforts on behalf of people with disabilities with the following awards:

  • Beit Issie Shapiro – Professor Stanley Herr Young Leadership Award
  • Bizchut – The Israel Center for the Human Rights of People with Disabilities recognized Kraiem for 20 years of his activity on behalf of the rights of persons with disabilities
  • The National Council for Community Rehabilitation awarded Kraiem its Mental Health – Recognition Award.

Kraiem states that his vision is for the full inclusion of people with any type of disability in all aspects of life and according to their choice while consolidating a personal autonomy and creating governmental supports in order to realize each individual's personal desires.

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