Social and Economic Justice

Celebrating Seven Years Of Disability Rights Activism

07 August 2014 By New Israel Fund

SHATIL is always imagining and implementing new ways to empower ordinary Israelis. Seven years ago, SHATIL and the David Yellin College of Education graduated the inaugural class of a first-of-its-kind course designed to turn Israelis with disabilities into social justice activists. This year we're celebrating the seventh anniversary of the course and its many success stories.

In 2008, SHATIL realized that more needed to be done to empower Israelis with disabilities. In an innovative partnership with the David Yellin College, Amutat Shekel, and the Center for Independent Living, SHATIL launched a course designed to give Israelis with disabilities the tools and strength to advocate for their rights.

This course brought together groups of about 20 participants for a five-month long, hands-on seminar on combating injustice and creating change. The course provided participants with disabilities with a new perspective on their ability to create change, and the able-bodied with newfound knowledge, empathy, and understanding. Together the students learned how to create initiatives for change.

The 2014 graduating class implemented initiatives dedicated to creating a network of qualified caregivers for children and senior citizens with disabilities. Additionally, the students worked to better train caregivers of disabled individuals. They are also working on a campaign to equalize terms of employment; similar to equal employment rights in other democracies, and a program supporting families where one or both of the parents has a psychosocial disability.

There is powerful connection between the course participants, and the students' pride in the program and their initiatives is evident. Students who spoke were overwhelmed with gratitude for the course leaders and their ability to "turn dreams into a reality."

"I felt I was experiencing something wonderful, something I'd never before experienced — not at work and not in my studies: I learned about creating initiatives and translating ideas and dreams into an actual project. Now, I want to have a part in influencing and changing, to be an agent of change — not on behalf of persons with disabilities but together with them," said participant Hanin Majdala.

At least one other college has replicated the program - which is being co-facilitated by a course graduate - and two more are looking into doing so. What's more, course leaders are presenting the program to 100 senior educators from overseas around the world.

Like many participants, Smadar Harush learned self-acceptance in the course.

"After taking the course, I have the strength to decide that it is ok for me to accept my disability as a part of my identity…Other people have always decided for us or learned about us, now we can do it for ourselves," she said.

Moving forward, the course will be open next year to all students at David Yellin College.