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Shira Ruderman is an Israeli philanthropist who serves as the Israel Director of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Shira initiates and leads innovative social and public projects to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society.
Where do you think Israeli society currently is on inclusion?
It’s mixed. On the one hand, the legal system is pretty advanced, much more so than most Western countries. Israel accepted UN recommendations and instituted sweeping legislative changes.
On the other hand, the services are not yet aligned with the legal changes and as developed as they should be. For example, the government recognizes the need for independent living but doesn’t have sufficient independent living facilities. There’s also not enough people to enforce the law and insufficient consequences for failing to implement.
I’d also say that the country is currently undergoing a positive shift in attitudes. Israelis can be very accommodating and understanding toward people with disabilities, but often lack understanding of their potential to contribute to society. Research indicates that Israelis are not yet comfortable living integrated lives. This requires an emphasis on culture change as well as enhanced services.
What is the Ruderman Family Foundation doing to make change?
In a relatively short period of time, really in the past 5-7 years, we’ve seen significant changes. We’ve seeded numerous new initiatives, early on from the top-down and now from the bottom-up. Our focus has been changing the funding system from attaining government support for institutions, which we feel is limiting, to government support for the individual. By financing the people not the places, we empower the individual with disabilities and create innovation and choice in the market.
One of the most promising things we are working on is empowering self-advocates. We started convening self-advocates several years ago and now have 10 local groups. From that we created a national leadership network, which will be a powerful voice for people with disabilities. Our last conference had 120 self-advocates. We are now in the process of including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into these networks.
We believe deeply in the power of networks. We are bringing together a wide array of stakeholders from the academic world, the media, self-advocates, philanthropists, and board members. Each of these circles has a committee. In addition to convener, our role is to provide the tools to undertake joint action, such as social media campaigns. In fact, a recent social media campaign led to a decision by the Minister of Welfare to transfer 900 people from institutions to independent housing.
What’s your long-term vision for Israel and people with disabilities?
We are also working at the local level with groups who will advocate locally. This began at our home base in Rehovot and is being scaled up in 15-20 communities in the next few years. Local leadership groups push for expanded services and public policy changes at the local level. These are just a few of numerous networking initiatives that are catalyzing change.
In the next ten years, I’d love to see more people with disabilities active in all walks of life and more people living normal lives. We want to move Israeli society from chesed to tzedek, or from charity to justice. That takes time but we already are seeing the results.
To Register for the Ruderman Inclusion Summit in Boston November 1-2, 2015, click here. The deadline is October 15, 2015!