Access Israel was launched at the President’s Residence in 1999, and On July 28 2019, some of its members and supporters were back at the President’s Residence to celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary, coupled with a rafter of achievementsBy Greer Fay Cashman / The Jerusalem Post
Access Israel may never have been established had its founding president, Yuval Wagner, not been an IAF combat pilot who suffered permanent injuries in a helicopter crash in 1987.
Confined to a wheelchair, he ruefully discovered many places were inaccessible to him.
After a lengthy rehabilitation, Wagner wrote to then-president Ezer Weizman to ask his help in launching a not-for-profit organization to create awareness of the needs of people with disabilities. To his pleasant surprise, Weizman telephoned to offer his support.
President Reuven Rivlin and Yuval Wagner
All things considered, it wasn’t so surprising. As a former commander in chief of the IAF, Weizman had a soft spot for all Air Force personnel, especially combat pilots.
And so Access Israel was launched by Weizman at the President’s Residence in 1999.
On July 28, some of its members and supporters were back at the President’s Residence to celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary, coupled with a rafter of achievements.
“In a sense, it’s the closing of a circle” said Access Israel CEO Michal Rimon, adding that being invited to the President’s Residence is something that no organization should take for granted.
When she joined Access Israel 12 years ago, she said, it was with the aim of helping people with special needs to integrate into the mainstream. “We’ve made breakthroughs beyond our wildest expectations,” she said. Although the organization operates with a small staff, she continued, they are all very dedicated and blessed with a great deal of humanity. Moreover, the organization is supported by many partners in Israel and abroad.
Rimon noted 30% of Israelis have some type of disability.
Access Israel's members were back at the President’s Residence to celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary
President Reuven Rivlin remarked that this was a meeting that his late wife, Nechama, who suffered from a respiratory disability, would have wanted to attend.
He was very glad to see MK Ilan Gilon, whom he warmly embraced, and said that he would have loved to vote for him when they were both in the Knesset, but couldn’t because they had such different political views. Gilon is a member of Meretz and Rivlin was a member of Likud.
Gilon, who whizzes around the corridors of the Knesset on a scooter, has been an active spokesman for the disabled. Rivlin recalled that as Knesset speaker, he had been entranced listening to Gilon’s advocacy in the plenum. When he spoke it had nothing to do with politics, said Rivlin. What he wanted to do was to raise awareness across the board.
Rivlin said that the Knesset must be more sensitive to the needs of the disabled, and must enact legislation that takes diverse needs into account.
“But enacting legislation is not enough,” he said. “The legal network must ensure that such legislation is implemented.”
He cited some obvious things that are often overlooked, such as building a ramp alongside a staircase.
Rivlin also noted that the public must look at abilities rather than disabilities, and cited the Israel Paralympic team that always comes home with a stack of medals.
President Reuven Rivlin with Access Israel's delegation
Wagner said that if he looked behind him on one side, he would see a screen on which the text of every word spoken out loud in the room appeared simultaneously, enabling the hearing impaired to follow the conversation. Just in case their vision was also poor, behind Rivlin on the other side was a young man relaying the conversation in sign language.
There are several options for signing Jerusalem in sign language, one of which is like blowing a kiss, and another is to place the fingers of one hand on the back of the other hand to form a wall, with the top of the hand serving as a cupola to convey Jerusalem the Holy City.
Teaching three or four words in sign language while waiting for an event to begin is one of the ways in which Access Israel puts people at their ease.
Wagner, who was credited by others in the room with always thinking up new possibilities for access, told Rivlin that lack of accessibility is equivalent to being under house arrest. Much of what the organization has achieved has been with the help of technology, he said, noting that Israel is in the forefront of global technology.
“The world is heading toward smart homes and smart businesses where almost every action is technology driven,” Wagner said, which will enable far more access than is currently available. Israel should be a pioneer in further developing access technology, he added.
Rimon said that Access Israel also works toward making dreams come true. Among those who came to meet with the president was Orel Plomba, a blind girl with a wonderful singing voice who two years ago received a prize from Nechama Rivlin...
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