No school day like the other
Access Israel is an organization that took it on themselves to make the country as barrier free as possible for its citizens. With exemplary actions the non-profit sensibilises students for the concerns of people with disabilities Lydia is irritated. It is clearly difficult for her to orient herself in the noisy room. In order to concentrate on her conversational partner, she needs a quiet surrounding and the classroom with the jolly youth is the opposite. A teacher distributes eye masks and the student imagine for a few moments how Lydia’s world works. Now the women in her mid-fifties can tell the story about how she turned blind due to an eye disease and how she dealt with her blindness in the last twelve years. She talks about her difficult start and how she uses the blind cane to orient herself in her surrounding, but she also talks about the limits of using this cane. She explains that when someone wants to talk to her she doesn’t like to be grabbed on her arm and that a light touch on her arm is enough to catch her attention. The students, which are around 15 to 16 years old, experience things that they never even thought about and you can almost hear how the penny has dropped and how they slowly begin to understand. Therefore, the question round is very lively. This activity takes place at the Mosinzon High School in Hod Hasharon, a city in the metropolitan area of Tel Aviv.
Simple example- amazing effect
A classroom next door: Lee Sasson takes something out of his bag, a small wooden box and gives it to the students. “Now open the box and look what is inside” he asks them. The children would like to do so, but how? The slippery box does not give any point to open it with your fingers, not the lid, nor the lock is visible. Once they discover the trick (you need to touch the diagonally opposing spots and pull it lightly), everyone is astonished how simple the solution was that they couldn’t find before. “Do you see, this is how I feel often during the day, if it is to buy a train ticket or trying to read instructions.”, the young women explains. She lives with a form of cognitive constraints, that is difficult to explain to others, but the example with the wooden box helps, the students are astonished, learn and have fun with this special form of education.
Experience it yourself in order to understand
In the classroom next door the situation seems much simpler on the first look. What is different about the man that is talking about his everyday life is clear, he sits in a wheelchair and one of his lower legs is replaced with a metal protheses. Okay, but what does that mean for him? That’s what the young people learn that are listening to him with full attention, by experiencing it. With excitement they take the wheelchairs and take part in a path with obstacles that was prepared for them in the schoolyard. Of course, the first time they try it they fail in the first obstacle, such as an uneven floor. But why would they have ever had to think about how difficult it is to drive with a wheelchair over pebble stone?
Situations become comprehensible
The 27th of April is a special school day for the students of the Mosinzon High School, which is a boarding schools for Israelis and Jewish students from all over the world. In additional classrooms personal meetings and discussions with people with disabilities take place, who are challenged through different disabilities. The goal is to make their situations comprehensible and understandable for able people, even if just for a short moment. They do this through headphones that simulate a hearing disability and a deaf person gives a short introduction to sign language. A young man, who is autistic, shows a short videoclip that shows what it means to be exposed to all of the stimulations in a shopping mall which overwhelm him as he can’t understand them all.
An effect that goes beyond this one day
The initiator of this special school day is Access Israel. It was established almost twenty years ago and aims to create a barrier free country and achieved astonishing things in this time period. It is clear that it is about more than just the removal of physical barriers for the Access Israel’s activists of which the majority are volunteers, is clear on this day. They have the goal to remove the barriers in the heads of the people. The students should learn through the actions, to put themselves in the shoes of these people that have these daily struggles. It is clear that the food for thought they give the student will stay with them beyond this one day. This approach is based on the four pillar principle of Access Israel. These four pillars are knowledge, personally meeting people with disabilities, experience it yourself and pay it forward. It is about understanding disabilities, meeting the affected, a glimpse into their situation with the help of realistic simulations of the specific limitation and paying forward what was learned and experienced to others, such as family, friends and colleagues.
In addition, Access Israel works to make public building accessible, as public transport and more. The information learned at school complements these activities. Here, a cornerstone for this important aspect of a barrier free world is put: Comprehension through understanding. A school subject with future.
Translated from German by: Sharon Kessler
Original article in German by: Werner Pohl