At a recent UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities conference, the audience of international leaders was addressed by Jean Judes, Executive Director of Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS), an Israeli non-profit organization that works with and advocates for Israel’s disabled community.
Judes described BIS’ Park Chaverim initiative, Israel’s first inclusive, equal access playground. An eight-year old disabled Israeli girl named Anastasia who attended the park said, “Park Chaverim has lots of fun equipment that’s also made for kids like me. In a typical playground, you can’t get to everything with a wheelchair. There’s not always enough room for it to get through. But here there’s a special path where I can ride my wheelchair right up to the top of the slide. When I’m swinging fast I feel like I can fly! The nicest thing is that you can always make new friends here.”
Judes also discussed BIS’ collaborative effort with Israel’s Sesame Street to create Sivan, a wheelchair-bound puppet. Her creators hope that her friendly, intelligent personality will improve Israeli children’s perceptions of the disabled.
According to BIS, “Our vision of an inclusive society, which assures the rights and opportunities for maximum growth and development of children and adults with diverse abilities. We aim to do this by creating new therapies, providing cutting-edge services, changing attitudes in society, advocating for better legislation, and sharing knowledge internationally through research and training.”
BIS was awarded Special Consultative Status to the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one of few Israeli organizations to hold this position. Andrei Abramov, who leads ECOSOC’s NGO branch emphasized, “I have been inspired by what I have seen here at Beit Issie Shapiro and their innovations to make life easier for people with disabilities, and I believe that their knowledge and experience should be shared with the world. I have been extremely impressed by both the ideas that have come out of this forum, and by the motivation and dedication of all those involved.”
Following the UN presentation, official representatives from across the world, including representatives from nations such as Lebanon and Qatar that don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel, approached Judes to learn more about Beit Issie Shapiro and to pursue cooperation in the field. “At a time when boycotts of Israel are on the rise, I am proud to represent our great country”, says Judes. “Beit Issie Shapiro develops innovations that impact positively on people with disabilities and change attitudes in the community toward people with disabilities.”
Eitan Press contributed to this report.
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About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."
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