“Opening a New Window” to Higher Ed Inclusion in Israel

Guest Blogger Zion Regev, Executive Director ISEF Israel

The recent “Is Higher Education in Israel Accessible?” conference, a day that dealt with the question, “Is academia accessible and to whom?” was “born” through the partnership between the Ruderman Family Foundation, the ISEF Foundation and Hebrew University. The goal was to encourage critical discussion about academia’s place and responsibilities in the world of youngsters whose simple dream of becoming a student, like everyone else, is often denied them.

We were pleasantly surprised by the large number of people who showed up at Hebrew University’s Senate Hall. There were nearly 200 in attendance — young students, professors and those who work with people with disabilities in academic institutes. But what excited me the most was seeing the attendees who came in wheel chairs, those with visual impairments or wearing hearing aids. You could see their disabilities but what was clear was that many of those sitting in the audience, their families and friends, also have disabilities, though less visible ones. As Ahia Camara of the Legal Ministry reminded us, “We will all get there, it’s only a matter of time.”

Most exciting were Rabbi Rafi Foyerstein’s thoughts about “integration vs. excellence.” The Rabbi took us into the “life changing” moment surrounding his second son’s birth when they understood that he has Down syndrome. The Rabbi spoke about the insights gained and decisions made during such hard times, about the exhausting journey you take as a father with a disabled child, and about what qualifies as success. In addition to this emotional story, I learned a lot about decisiveness, belief and hope.

Dr. Nitzan Almog presented the status of accessibility in Israeli academia today. We could understand from her words that we still have a long way to go in this field. As she concluded: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

The final moments of the day presented students with disabilities and  professors with the question of using the terms “accessibility” or “facilitation.” The students were strongly against the word “facilitation,” explaining that nothing in their lives comes easily, but that they never ask for pity or special consideration. They don’t ask to be special; they sure didn’t ask to have a disability. All they want is to be students.

As someone who has been dealing with accessibility in the academia for many years, from slightly different angles, this day opened a new window to a different world that was always so close but I never saw it…

— Zion Regev

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