This week, the United Nations turned to leading Israeli disabilities nonprofit organization Beit Issie Shapiro for advice on the inclusion of people with disabilities.
Giving Beit Issie Shapiro’s first presentation to the UN, executive director Jean Judes spoke about community-based rehabilitation and the organization’s innovations to help include children and adults with disabilities in society. Amongst these innovations is Park Chaverim, Israel’s first inclusive and accessible playground so that children with and without disabilities can play together.
Judes announced the results of a study done at Beit Issie Shapiro looking at children’s perceptions of disabilities, which showed that while children without disabilities hold negative perceptions of children with disabilities, there is evidence that attitudes can be changed through education.
“We conducted research with children aged between four and six who were very honest in their responses,” explains Jean. “We discovered that children at a very early age think, feel, and act differently towards children with disabilities and have negative perceptions towards them. In order to remove barriers and to make a real deep change in society, we have to change attitudes along the whole age spectrum starting with kindergarten age, including youth, and up to adults.”
“We designed workshops for children, kindergarten teachers, and parents, and partnered with Sesame Workshop in Israel who created Sivan, the first muppet in a wheelchair, for Beit Issie Shapiro’s Park Chaverim. All of Israel’s children have the opportunity to meet Sivan and learn critical lessons about inclusiveness and tolerance by watching Rechov Sumsum (Sesame Street), which airs daily on Israel’s premier children’s channel, HOP!”
“Through education, the media, and changing legislation so that all new parks in Israel must be accessible, parents with children with disabilities now report to us that they feel a change in the community.”
Beit Issie Shapiro is known worldwide for its therapy innovations to make life easier and more inclusive for people with disabilities, and was awarded Special Consultative Status to the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last July.
“At a time when boycotts of Israel are on the rise, I am proud to represent the ‘Start-Up Nation,’” says Judes. “Beit Issie Shapiro develops innovations that impact positively on people with disabilities and change attitudes in the community towards people with disabilities.”
Representatives from across the world including Estonia, Colombia, New Zealand, the Vatican–and even from countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel–approached Judes to learn more from Beit Issie Shapiro and for cooperation in the field of disabilities.
“Israel is a country with a wealth of talent and a big heart,” says Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor. “Beit Issie Shapiro shows all that can be accomplished with Israeli innovation, professionalism, and leadership. We are very happy to have them as a partner at the United Nations, sharing their expertise to improve life for the 780 million people who live with disabilities around the world.” v