Independent Living

avital sandler loeffBy: Avital Sandler-Loeff

In the U.S. today, 20,000 Americans live in institutions out of 320,000,000 citizens, a very miniscule percentage. However, in Israel, 10,000 people with disabilities out of 8,000,000 residents are institutionalized. Such striking realities help to illustrate how Israel is still 30 years behind the United States in creating opportunities for Independent Living for people with disabilities.

Israel Unlimited, the strategic partnership of JDC-Israel, the Government of Israel and the Ruderman Family Foundation, has committed itself to promoting an inclusive Israeli society. Through mechanisms that support Independent Living, accessibility and changing attitudes, the partnership keeps the notion of “community” in mind with every pilot program, project and undertaking.

We envision an Israeli society where, like able-bodied young people, Israelis with disabilities can choose who they want to live with and where they want to live. We believe that with changing attitudes and genuine opportunity we can create a community that embraces, celebrates and values people with disabilities.

“Supported Housing” is an innovative model that helps young adults make the transition into the community and has demonstrated that independent living is possible in Israel. The program includes mentors and care coordinators that provide young adults with assistance in finding suitable apartments, training and help in adapting to an independent lifestyle and ongoing support to settle in their new homes. Our pilot project is now expanding nationally. In January, we will widen “Supported Housing” from its three current locations to nine new locations across Israel.

Though Israel Unlimited has not yet transformed the reality of institutionalization in Israel, we are taking impactful steps to transform the individual worlds of people like Lior, a thriving participant of our Supported Housing program.

Lior, 29, an employee of the municipality of Tel Aviv, is a young person with a disability. Lior always wanted to live independently, but felt overwhelmed and confused about how to go about doing so. Within the Supported Housing program he found guidance from his Independent Living counselor, Yael. He has not only found an apartment and selected a roommate, but learned how to cook, pay bills and run errands.

Lior (right) with Tomer

Lior (right) with Tomer

With his roommate Tomer, they have created a warm home and a safe place. Now their next challenge is to find girlfriends and have  meaningful relationships.

The program fills a critical gap in the range of housing options that are available to people with disabilities in Israel, which until recently ranged from large institutions to hostels, assisted living arrangements, and community housing, but lacked- to a great extent- the possibility of living independently. By filling this gap, young adults with disabilities will have the opportunity to choose where they want to live, with whom they want to live and they’ll be able to play an active role in their own lives.

We are proud to see that change is beginning to take hold in Israeli society as barriers are broken down and attitudes changed. These successes makes us confident that inclusive communities will shape the future of Israel’s disability landscape.

Avital Sandler-Loeff serves as the director of Israel Unlimited, a strategic partnership between the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Israeli Government and the Ruderman Family Foundation. Israel Unlimited was named one of the Zero Project’s Most Innovative Practices in 2015 for working towards a world without barriers for people with disabilities.

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