Empowering Self-Advocates with Intellectual Disabilities

Wailing Wall and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel
Separated by thousands of miles, Stephanie Blum came together with kindred spirits overseas in Israel through a collaborative exchange partnership.

Stephanie Blum, who is a personal agent at Full Access in Eugene, Oregon, traveled to Jerusalem and Kiryat Ono, Israel as a part of MIUSA’s Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. While there, she partnered 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, 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. Stephanie found 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.

“[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, “our goal is to support the establishment of a grassroots organization of self-advocates of people with intellectual disabilities.  This could be the beginnings of a strong movement." 

In preparation for her trip, Stephanie reviewed background materials and learned about Israeli culture and society. Her itinerary included a visit to a shared-living community that includes people who have disabilities working together with the rest of the community.

“It was great to see some of the resources that they have and how their system runs,” Stephanie remarked about visiting Israel and working with her program partners. “I defniitely brought back some ideas of how Full Access can be better.”