Nothing about Us without Us - A First-of-its-Kind Advocate Conference of People with Intellectual Disabilities      

Over the past two years, the Shalem Foundation joined a “self-advocating” program in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, the Division of Services for Persons with Development Disabilities. The program began operating in rehabilitation centers across Israel. The closing event (conference) of the program took place in Ramat-Gan in April this year and involved students with intellectual and developmental disabilities from employment centers nationwide and from all sectors., where they presented their success stories from the program.

The event was attended by more than 100 people from 11 employment centers across Israel, representatives of the Shalem Fund-partner and funder of the program, Vivian Azran, Director of Community Services in the division for Persons with Developmental Disabilities from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, Tali Alon, National Supervisor of Leisure and Supporting services, Dani Katz, National Supervisor of Employment and Treatment from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, and Ofra Berger, facilitator of the self-advocating workshops.
Self-advocating is a program in which people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in various frameworks establish their rights and realize their needs and desires. They become an integral part of the decision making process in their community framework, enabling them to achieve their personal goals and desires. At the basis of the self-advocating approach is the assumption that each person has the right to be included in decisions concerning oneself and their life. This approach supports the notion that every action by professionals should be based on what is important to the person from their own point of view, by paying attention to and having a continuing dialogue with them.
The Shalem Fund with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services have taken this matter one step forward and, in partnership with the Division for Persons with IDD, have developed a program for assisting teams and service receivers in employment frameworks to become familiar with the self-advocating approach. The program has been and continues to be successful with new frameworks …..every year. It enables people with IDD to express their needs. Moreover, it promotes and develops useful skills for people with developmental disability such as: taking responsibility and actively being involved in decisions and plans regarding one's life, understanding, and learning  how to present themselves and their interests.
Riva Muskal, Director, the Shalem Fund, funder of the program stated: “Self-advocating is a necessary stage in the incorporation of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the community and workplaces, alongside the greatest right of any person to “have his or her voice heard” and be fully included in decisions regarding his or her life. People with IDD face many challenges; one of the most prominent is the difficulty to express themselves and their desires. This “self-advocating” program gives tools to create an environment where people with IDD can express themselves freely and be their own “advocate”. The Shalem Foundation will continue promoting and funding initiatives which improve the quality of life of people with IDD disabilities in all aspects of life in the community”.
 
So, What Interests people with IDD?
At this ground breaking conference people with IDD, one by one, shared the subjects that interest them.  They included: food preferences, health issues, birthday activities and wishes, hygiene related issues, recreational ideas, employment and how to build success in one's workplace.
Some of the interesting stories included initiatives such as: an “economic recycling” project, which collects bottles for recycling raising money for gifts... a rehabilitation center in southern Israel which started a newspaper, another built a project of cultivating seeds and selling them, in addition to opening a kiosk in order to raise money while a third center presented a process where the need for private lockers was suggested by the people with IDD and therefore chosen by them and installed.
 
Red Means : Stop,  Green Means : Go
Projects which was widely embraced by the people with IDD participating in the summarizing conference and developed at "Shekel" Rehabilitation center was: Red Means “Stop”, Green Means “Go”.  The participants were sharing their difficulty to lock toilet doors, and their need for privacy.  The initiative they created was red and green signs which they hung up and used. Red – taken, “please do not open”, and green – “clear”. The initiate was credited to the ……
 
In Summary people with Intellectual and Developmental disabilities, their families and  professionals all understood and appreciated the goals, concepts and tools for self-advocacy. Moreover, Vivian Azran, Director of Community Services at the Department for Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at the Ministry of social services announced her intention to create "a national advocacy representation group for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities”.

 

Riva Muskal: the “self- advocacy” programs are a crucial facet in the change we are seeking to becoming a more accepting and inclusive society, and just as important – attentive