A collaborative exchange partnership

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Empowering Self-Advocates with Intellectual Disabilities in Israel

Empowering Self-Advocates with Intellectual Disabilities in Israel

by Kevin Cosgrove

Separated by thousands of miles, Stephanie Blum has come together with kindred spirits overseas in Israel through a collaborative exchange partnership.

Stephanie, who is a personal agent at Full Access in Eugene, Oregon, traveled to Jerusalem and Kiryat Ono, Israel on August 24 as a part of MIUSA’s Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. While there, she is partnering with a nonprofit for people with disabilities along with a higher education institution to work on self-advocacy and independence for people who have intellectual disabilities.

“One of the things that is so interesting to me about this partnership,” Stephanie said prior to going overseas, “is that even though this organization is so far away, it is amazing how our goals of self-directed supports and inclusion seem to line up so perfectly.”

At her job at Full Access, Stephanie works with people who have intellectual disabilities to ensure that they have a voice in the community. She places a high emphasis on providing individuals with the tools and strategies they need to make their own choices in order to have ownership over their lives. She said she expects to find a great amount of inspiration on that front from her Israeli partner organizations Bizchut and the Research Institute for the Health and Medical Professions at Ono Academic College.

“I’m going to learn whatever they have to offer,” Stephanie said. “[My program partners] want to start an advocacy program and have someone with a disability run it to be more self-sustaining and advocate for disability rights.”

Bizchut’s Suzanne Cannon further explained. “In general, staff have a fairly high level of independence and the freedom to bring new ideas, projects and initiatives to the table regardless of their position,” she said.  “I think the organization and our beneficiaries benefit from this openness which enables creative thinking and subsequent action.”

Stating similar ambitions, Judy Arad of Ono Academic College said, “It would seem that if we succeed in supporting the establishment of a grassroots organization of self-advocates of people with intellectual disabilities, it could be the beginnings of a strong movement, especially if collaboration could be established with an American counterpart.”

In preparation for her trip, Stephanie reviewed background materials and learned about Israeli culture and society. Her itinerary is scheduled to include tours of noted sights still remaining from the city’s ancient times along with a visit to a shared-living community that includes people who have disabilities working together with the rest of the community.

“I think it’ll be great to see some of the resources that they have and how their system runs,” Stephanie said about visiting Israel and working with her program partners. “Maybe I can bring back some ideas of how Full Access can be better.”

Stephanie is keeping a blog with ongoing photos and updates about her travels and experiences in Israel. Find out what she’s up to: http://sblumtravels.blogspot.co.il/