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Community leaders visit Israel to learn about its disability breakthroughs

Delegation organized by Friendship Circle will connect groups and funders with leading research and tech into support for special needs individuals

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Roim Rachok helps people with autism integrate into the IDF and enables them to serve in key positions. (Courtesy of IDF)
Roim Rachok helps people with autism integrate into the IDF and enables them to serve in key positions. (Courtesy of IDF)

Community leaders from the US and around the world will gather in Israel this week to learn about inroads Israel has made in supporting and including individuals with special needs.

The Exceptional Israel Ability Leadership Mission to Israel is a program organized by Friendship Circle of Michigan, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, together with seven other Friendship Circles and in partnership with Access Israel and Friendship Circle Jerusalem. Access Israel is an Israeli nonprofit organization that aims to promote the quality of life of people with disabilities and the elderly.

Friendship Circle provides assistance to 3,000 individuals with special needs and their families.

While Israel has a great reputation for its technology and startup culture, few know about its “significant advances in research, technology, programming and accessibility for individuals with disabilities,” the organizers said in a statement.

President Reuven Rivlin saluting the 20 IDF soldiers from the Special in Uniform program who were awarded certificates for excellent service on June 6 (Courtesy Hana Azriel)

The program will connect funders, executives and leaders of organizations working with individuals who have disabilities with “the best and brightest individuals and organizations with a passion for enhancing the quality of life for individuals with special needs,” the statement said.

The idea of the trip is to help create new partnerships and enable participants to find new ways to improve the quality of life for individuals with special needs based on Israeli ideas and innovations.

As part of their trip, participants will visit the Weizmann Institute of Science where they will learn about advances in autism research, accessibility and student integration. They will also visit organizations including Special in Uniform, a program that integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces and society; the Dror Program, an educational program at Tel Aviv University that provides specialized schooling and vocational training to young adults with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders; and ALUT, a center to help families coping with autism and developmental disorders.

Participants will meet with Israeli politicians, including Deputy Minister Michael Oren, former ambassador to the United States in 2009–2013, and Ron Gerstenfeld, Israel’s deputy director of public affairs, as well as over 20 technology startups that are focused on creating a better quality of life for people with disabilities.

“We are gathering together on the first-of-its-kind trip to Israel where we will learn about Israel’s world-leading advances in the field of special needs,” said Michael Alessandri, executive director of the University of Miami Center for Autism & Related Disabilities. “I am excited to learn about these advances and bring innovative ideas and practices back home to my community and drastically better the lives of individuals with special needs.”

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