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I was honored to be invited to present at the recent Conference on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at the United Nations this past July. Beit Issie Shapiro received Special Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council of the UN in 2012, and it has been both eye-opening and inspiring for me and my colleague, Shosh Kaminski, to take part in the global dialogue concerning the CRPD and its implementation in different countries.
As a social worker through and through, with over 30 years of experience in the social sector, I was amazed at the commitment shared by so many colleagues from around the world, in both developing and developed countries to promote a joint agenda around disabilities. I felt a real sense of opportunity for mutual learning and dialogue in the air, though mostly through the informal talks, and less through the formal conference panels, which were very political in nature. During those informal moments and corridor conversations, Shosh and I were approached by representatives and organizations from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, and we were thrilled to hear them say that there is much to learn from Israel in the field of disabilities. Our Commissioner, Ahiya Kamara, was at the conference as Israel`s State representative and as always, made some powerful statements.
A large number of issues were discussed at the conference, but the following were the ones that stuck with us most:
– The important place allocated to disabilities organizations in the conference emphasizes the growing empowerment of the civil society around the world and its impact on policy in the field of disabilities.
– The conference highlighted the connection between poverty, disability and the State’s responsibility to allocate funds to minimize these phenomenon, especially through inclusive employment as a necessary economic and social mobility track.
– We learned about the growing use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for developing abilities of children and adults with disabilities, and as a means to promote their inclusion in society.
Finally, the conference encouraged us to continue with our work to set up a coalition of civil society organizations which will be involved in the implementation and monitoring of the CRPD in Israel. We believe that active participation by the civil society, together with State bodies, will bring about a more effective and qualitative implementation of the convention.
When I stood up on the stage in the main hall and looked upon the many state and civil society representatives from around the world, I felt such great excitement and a great sense of pride to be able to represent the vibrant civil society in Israel. Many countries represented in the U.N. stifle their civil society and see it as a potential threat. This gave me a perspective on our democracy in Israel and the ability to influence through civic action .
I presented Beit Issie Shapiro’s Community-based Rehabilitation (CBR) model, which includes developing innovative model services that can be replicated, inclusion work designed to change attitudes in the community and influence policy and legislation, and developing and disseminating knowledge through research and training. I gave our inclusive and accessible playground – Park Chaverim – as an example of just how we put our CBR model into practice, focusing on changing attitudes in the community and legislation so that true inclusion can take place. Please click here to view the full presentation (scroll to 1:27:41), and click here to read the President of RespectAbilityUSA.org, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi’s take on the presentation, published in The Jewish Week.
Our model interested many countries, and representatives approached us to ask us additional questions and showed interest in learning more about what is happening in this field in Israel. It was so very heartwarming to receive such positive feedback and it raised some hope in me that so many of our differences and negative attitudes towards one another can be bridged by focusing on an issue that crosses all boarders and affects all cultures – disabilities!
Jean Judes is the Executive Director of Beit Issie Shapiro, Israel’s leading organization in the field of disabilities. Jean has been working in the field of disabilities for the past 20 years and believes in the necessity of social change in the way society treats those who are different. In order to improve the quality of life of people with special needs, society must be changed and the community made physically and socially accessible, so that people with special needs can become part of the community on all levels and in all spheres of life.