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Background

 

In Jerusalem there are between 27,000 and 50,000 Haredi (ultra-orthodox) people with varying degrees of disability. This group includes people with physical, mental, sensory, developmental, and cognitive disabilities who are, therefore, doubly discriminated against by Israeli society. For example, Haredi people with disabilities have higher unemployment rates and greater economic difficulties both in comparison to the Haredi who are not disabled and to the secular population with disabilities (Alfassi-Henley, 2014). In addition, there is a serious lack of information regarding their rights and the services in place to assist them which is partly due to poor access to information on the Internet and other media. Similarly to people with disabilities from other sectors, members of the Haredi sector with disabilities often experience stigma, shame, and concealment. This flagship community engagement project of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) – Lev Academic Center was established in the spirit of "the social model of disability" that views people with disabilities as having a unique contribution to society and seeks to do everything possible to enable them to fulfill this contribution for their benefit, and, no less importantly, for the benefit of all of society.

 

Project Description

 

Students participating in the project promote the rights of Haredi people with disabilities, their integration as equals into society, and their empowerment. 130 students from all JCT’s campuses, including students from the Haredi community and students with disabilities, participate in the project. The project is run by the Department of Nursing but is open to students from all departments at JCT, studying towards bachelor's as well as master's degrees. The students' activities in the community include four hours each week throughout the academic year. Students participating in the project receive a scholarship as well as a certificate acknowledging their participation in the flagship program.

 

In the early months of the year, students attend training that combines practical-professional aspects, such as information regarding human rights in general and the rights of people with disabilities in particular, as well as theoretical-academic aspects, such as basic concepts of disability studies. The training is provided by academic and professional experts (lawyers, social workers, etc.). During the year, additional training on specific topics adapted to the needs of students in the field is carried out.

 

Upon completion of the training, the students select one of following:

 

  1. Individual Level – advancing knowledge and awareness of rights among people with disabilities, their families and their caregivers, guidance and accompaniment in enacting their rights, and their empowerment. Some of the students deal with short-term inquiries while others accompany people and families with multiple needs over a long period of time providing them with in-depth assistance in order to achieve a significant and sustainable change in their lives.
  2. Community Level – creating community projects that address a need that arises from the community. For example, students identified the need to work with sisters of children with disabilities in a Haredi neighborhood and established a group of sisters with whom they have worked for over a year now.
  3. Public Policy Level – activities to alter policies or to create new policies, on both the municipal and national levels, particularly on topics that arise from those dealing with the individual and community levels.

 

On each level, the students can choose between one of two tracks. In the first track, the students can volunteer with civil society organizations that partner with the project (for more details, see under “Partner Organizations”).

 

In the second track, students volunteer in the “Lev Bakehilla” Citizens Rights Center. The Center’s mission is to help Haredi people with disabilities familiarize themselves with and realize their rights. This innovative Rights Center was established in collaboration with the Ezer Mizion Organization’s Family Counseling Center. The Rights Center was established as a result of an in-depth study conducted by the students, under the supervision of the project faculty. Their study used interviews to examine the needs of Haredi people with disabilities and their families, their level of knowledge about their rights, the degree to which they have realized their rights, and the best ways to address their needs and help them promote their rights. The students who volunteer at the Rights Center undergo a comprehensive training by experts in each of its issue areas. The Right Center addresses a wide range of issue areas, including housing, education, employment, accessibility, health services, welfare, due process, equality and more. The Center provides services to people with all kinds of disabilities, free of charge. The student volunteers have an entire network of experts from ten non-governmental and municipal organizations (lawyers, social workers, and others) who advise the students in how to help their clients. To the Rights Center's flyer and contact info, click here.

 

In light of studies that indicate the importance of discussion groups for students, regular group meetings are held for volunteers, where they discuss professional, emotional, and ethical dilemmas that arise from operating activities. The meetings allow reflection and group discussion on the work, the challenges it poses, as well as the benefits and opportunities that arise from it. These meetings also help connect the three levels of activity and the students working within them. The training and group sessions allow to put the students’ activism in the broader social, structural, cultural, economic, and political contexts.

 

The flagship project was built for the long term, taking into consideration the importance of a profound and ongoing relationship with the community and long-term continuous social activism of students and staff together with the community.

 

The project is accompanied by a comprehensive evaluation study, which helps develop the project in an effective manner and to maximize the contribution of the project to all those who participate. The evaluation study is based on a written survey, interviews, and observations.

 

Some nursing students participate in a seminar on health, disability, and human rights. This community-engaged seminar deals with social and cultural aspects of disability and their connection with human rights issues. The seminar is given by Dr. Zvika Orr and Dr. Adi Finkelstein. During the seminar, the students map and analyze social realities relating to the lives of people with disabilities from the Haredi community.

 

The project is generously supported by the Council for Higher Education, PERACH, and (in 2018) the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest, NJ.

 

Please contact us: kehila@g.jct.ac.il

Dr. Zvika Orr: orr@g.jct.ac.il

Tel. (office): +972-2-6547231

Fax: +972-77-3179204

Address: Tal Campus, 11 Beit Hadfus Street, Jerusalem 9548311, Israel