Fostering a Self-Advocacy Movement for People with Intellectual Disabilities in Israel


Today I’m happy to share information about a wonderful project to develop leadership skills among self-advocates in Israel.

As you see, “Nothing About Us Without Us” is not only a rallying cry but also a clear direction for how best to move ahead.

What does it mean to you?

–Jay Ruderman

Fostering a Self-Advocacy Movement for People with Intellectual Disabilities in Israel

By Jean Judes, Executive Director, Beit Issie Shapiro; and David B. Marcu, CEO, Israel Elwyn

The human rights approach to disabilities shapes the piercing social message of “nothing about us without us”.  This message can raise the awareness of people with diverse disabilities, including people with intellectual disabilities, to their right to be involved in making decisions concerning all aspects of their life.  Unfortunately the actualization of this basic human right is severely lacking in most people’s day-to-day reality.  People with disabilities have been discriminated against for centuries and they have not had access to civic and political participation.  This is particularly prevalent for people with intellectual disabilities.

As a result of this injustice, a groundbreaking partnership between Israel Elwyn and Beit Issie Shapiro was created to help foster community advocacy groups for people with intellectual disabilities in Israel.  We provide the conditions, tools and accessible information necessary so that people with intellectual disabilities can be represented and heard by their immediate environment and by policy makers.  The goal is to develop grass roots leadership amongst people with intellectual disabilities and to allow for the emerging of authentic voices for this group.

Our partnership started with no experience or models in Israel from which to learn. Luckily, we have had the privilege to enter a dialogue with professionals and people with intellectual disabilities in the USA and to get a head start on this work.  People with intellectual disabilities have taught us so much and we are humbled by how well they are learning how to make their own voices heard and how to work as a group in order to impact on their environment.

Five advocacy groups have formed in Jerusalem, Be’er Sheba and the Sharon region.  Each self-advocacy group is supported by an “enabler” whose role is to help facilitate the group members to independent action and the self-management of the group. The enabler makes information accessible, aids in applying various skills and promotes opportunities for individual growth[JJ1] [JJ2]  and development. Over time, each group appoints members to various roles, such as a group leader and secretary. The enabler helps the group leader – again, a person with intellectual disabilities – to develop as a leader and to perform his or her role as well as possible.

In group meetings, the members discuss the issues that bother them in their daily lives: employment, the way they are treated by those around them, making various services accessible, quality of life at their supported living service, etc. Together they identify critical life issues and those issues where they would like to make a change. They learn to work together to achieve that change.

This unique partnership between two agencies attempting to promote an important social change and enhance quality of life for persons with disabilities has been made possible by the support of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles.

It is our belief as agencies that “nothing about us without us” is not a cliché but a goal that can be accomplished if we believe in the power of people empowering themselves.  Working together will strengthen each of our agencies, the persons with disabilities we support and society-at-large.

David B. Marcu is the CEO of Israel Elwyn, an organization that provides support services for children and adults with disabilities and their families. 

Jean Judes is the CEO of Beit Issie Shapiro, an organization committed to social change in Israel for people with disabilities.



1 Comment

Filed under Disabilities rights

One response to “Fostering a Self-Advocacy Movement for People with Intellectual Disabilities in Israel

  1. Jason Lieberman

    It is great to see this step taken in Israel. If we want to see change in the public’s view of people with disabilities, we need to start by showing that such people are more than their diagnosis. This begins by giving people with disabilities the tools to express their feeling, needs and desires effectively. Perhaps more importantly even than teaching self advocacy skills is creating a culture full of opportunities where those expressions of opinion are not only heard but respected. Should such an environment develop, Israel will then begin to see a change in attitudes of the society as reported in the poll a few weeks back.”

    I know that any project undertaken by Beit Issie Shapiro will be done well. I hope that as they and Israel Elwyn move forward with this initiative that they remember the age old question, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one, is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” All to often significant energy is spent working with agencies to train people with intellectual disabilities in particular are given the tools to advocate only to find out that that that voice is not respected.
    As good as these group meeting can be, it is important to work with agency staff and the public at large to ensure that the opinions of people with disabilities are not only heard in these organized forums but respected at all other times as well.

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