While Shmuel Kanner attended a presentation during his professional exchange to the United States, Naama Lerner sat with a computer next to him. She listened to the translation of the presentation from English to Hebrew, and then she simplified what was spoken and typed it on her laptop screen for Shmuel to read. The night before, he also received supplemental materials related to the presentation, so Naama could prepare him for the content being delivered. This was an accommodation for his intellectual disability.
“Some of my ideas were vague in the beginning, and through the program they are starting to build.”
Shmuel wants to take the tools he learned in the presentations and site visits in the United States and recruit other people with intellectual disabilities in Israel to be part of a political advocacy organization and to become empowered.
“The travel was empowering for me. It made me stronger. It was always my dream to see how the world gets along. How people in the world include people with disabilities.”
Since this was Shmuel’s first time being out of Israel, everything was new. Naama, his support provider during the program, worked in clarifying the environment, the habits, the people, and the culture, too. The water tap is different, for example, so every situation had to be learned from step one.
Despite the jet lag and difficulty finding kosher food in Eugene, Oregon, Shmuel sees the benefits of participating in this U.S. Department of State-sponsored Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities exchange program.
“I am concerned people with intellectual disabilities are avoiding participation in life – just staying at home and not doing anything. I will try to take them out from their houses. They have a lot to say but they need someone to help them make the first step.”
Often that first step means finding independence from parents and becoming more self-aware and building resilience.
“It’s important to have the support of the parents, but it’s more important that the young people, we, do the projects and make the decisions. Parents will not be always with us, and they should empower us to do it alone.”
Shmuel leads a group of people with and without disabilities based at a post-secondary campus in Jerusalem. Its focus is for people with disabilities who want to learn in the university and need some support. Those in the group study together and learn what it means to be person with a disability. What helps Shmuel is someone sitting with him and tutoring him in the course material; he also needs a smaller group in the classroom so he will not be distracted.
Shmuel has been active in other projects too, such as reporting to city hall on what could be improved about the accessibility of public transportation. He also wants to find a life partner and be married, so he decided to open a group to learn social relationship skills.
On the U.S. exchange program, everywhere the group went Shmuel was trying to get the intellectual disability point of view. On meeting Americans with intellectual disabilities, they would share experiences in school, society, relationships, and work – he would ask “What tips can you give me?” related to creating his organization in Israel.
Through interactions with the U.S. partner, Full Access, and Bizchut Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities and Ono Academic College, he learned to be more aware of what is working for him and to use these resources.
“I learned something about myself that I already knew but was made more obvious. If there is something that I don’t understand, I have to advocate and then I will get it. I gained a lot of new knowledge about people’s rights and duties – I am inspired to not let go and not to give up.”
The Empower Partnerships for Inclusive Communities program is administered by MIUSA and sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the United States Department of State.