The experience of institutionalization of persons with disabilities, over the past several centuries, has in many countries resulted in exclusion from economic, social and political participation. Frequently, the need for support or assistance is used to argue that placement in an institution is necessary, or that the person is ineligible to live in the community in the living arrangement of their choice.
We know from the experiences of people with intellectual disabilities that it is not the level of disability or ability that determines whether a person can live in the community but rather the key determinant is the supports to which they have access.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities promotes:
“The equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and (that States Parties) shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community…”
Don McKay, the UN ambassador for New Zealand, who stated in the UN General Assembly in December 2006 by referring to the text to be adopted:
“Disability is no deficit any longer! Disability is no matter of charity,
it is a matter of human rights!”
Community inclusion results from efforts on two broad fronts: first, the activities of consumers and practitioners together to insure that each individual has every opportunity to participate in community life, and to be valued for his or her uniqueness and abilities, like everyone else; and, second, the affirmative actions of community members – as individuals and in the organizations and associations that are part of any vibrant community life – to welcome those with developmental disabilities into the complex web of day-to-day living.
Persons are impaired, but they are disabled because they are confronted with barriers. Barriers caused by attitudes, by inaccessible environments, technical designs, communication technologies etc.
Scientists and researchers can help to dismantle these barriers by developing, for instance, new communication tools and systems accessible and usable by persons with intellectual disabilities; by convincing architects, engineers and planning authorities to build and produce on the basis of standards which are “universal designs”, that is to say devices open and adaptable for all citizens irrespective of their disabilities; by drafting new concepts for inclusive education and by developing a social infrastructure respecting the needs of disabled persons, children and the elderly who very often face the same or similar barriers; and by developing curricula for education and training of professionals and staff working with persons with intellectual disabilities.
Building community inclusion requires each of us to think beyond ourselves, and become more focused on supporting each other.
1. US dept. of Justice – Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990, 2008 Section III
2. CII – Canada National Community Inclusion Initiative
3. NSIP - National Service Inclusion Project, Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)
4. Arie Rimmerman, Social Inclusion of People with Disabilities, Cambridge University Press, 2013
5. Building Community Inclusion for People with Disabilities, Inclusion Werks Inc., Woodinville, WA
6. Inclusion 101 - A ‘How To’ Guide, Yellowknife Association for Community Living (YKACL), Canada
7. Quality of Life: Application to persons with disabilities, vol 2, 1997, Robert L. Schalock - editor, American Association on Mental Retardation
8. Klaus Lachwitz, Inclusion International, IASSID – World Conference in Halifax July 8 – 13, 2012, Linking Local Voices to Global Change
Background & Principles
Amichai, when established in 1994, envisioned an integrative and inclusive society for all its members, regardless of disability. The guidelines of ADA were well within the strategic concepts outlined by Amichai's founders, based on the principles of social participation, involvement and accessibility.
Until several years ago it was widely accepted, among professionals and authorities catering for people with severe mental and developmental disabilities, that people with these levels of disabilities cannot integrate within the community, and dedicated programs and facilities should accommodate their needs. Hence, it was common practice to establish programs and build facilities for large number of users, where all services are provided under same roof. This approach lend to total segregation and complete isolation of these people from the surrounding community.
At Amichai People with disabilities are people first - just like anyone else! They have interests and hobbies just like anyone else. People with disabilities want to participate in community life just like anyone else and like all of us search for the chance to simply belong.
When we think about participating in community life, we envision communities full of equal opportunities to experience life through civic engagement, education, employment, friendships, health and wellness, housing, family roles, sports, recreation and leisure, religion and spiritual nourishment, public transportation, shopping, dining out, movie going and much more. Accordingly, Amichai's vision calls for initiation' development and creation of activities that will include people with developmental disabilities in all aspects of life, including housing; employment and leisure as well as all other bnalis of everyday life.
Since its inception two decades ago, Amichai adopted the principle that every person, regardless of disability, has the right to be an equal member in the community. Real integration can't be reached without social participation and involvement of persons with intellectual disability in the general activities of everyday life of the community. Consequently, Amichai develops activities in which participants share the public sphere and participate in various activities that are cornerstones of community life. Accordingly, over 25% of all our activities are conducted within the general public outside of our physical structures and with additional participants with no intellectual developmental disabilities.
The challenges in front of Amichai, when drawing our Community inclusion program, were to find the most effective activities to promote inclusion of individuals with developmental disabilities (moderate to severe mental retardation, often coupled with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities) and participate in all aspects of life in the community, when each life ‘domain’ poses special challenges and offers special rewards. This group has been traditionally discriminated and deprived of the right to belong to community, placed in institutions or other custodian locations and considered the least "inclusive-able" among the population of people with special needs.
Vision & Goals
Beit Amichai, and its Inclusion Center, was inaugurated in late 2014, based on the vision and achievements of Amichai since 1994. It was conceived as an Inclusion Regional Center, to perform as "central relay station" for inclusion within the community activities, for people with developmental disabilities of all age.
At Beit Amichai we strive to implement, in our portfolio of activities and facilities, a barrier-free design which will enable accessible physical environment, bridge attitudes and eliminate segregation. The universal design of the building, based on the principles introduced by American architect Ronald Mace about 30 years ago, means that we design the physical environment, programs and service for everyone, so that all people can use the center and its facilities, no matter their ability, therefore defining it as a Regional Civic Center, offering multiple diverse programs to all members of the community. Special attention has been given to the Importance of locating the building in a residential area with a vibrant and active community life, in order to promote social integration within surrounding social
The building houses all of Amichai's current inclusion activities (except for residential housing) catering to all age ranges and the types of special needs, while focusing on the population with developmental disabilities and physical challenges (including mental retardation, autism, CP , down syndrome and other similar disabilities), accompanied by medical conditions (such as epilepsy, speech difficulties, physical disabilities etc.).
Amichai's inclusion Center opens its doors to the wider population throughout the week, by running different services for the welfare of the Community (community coffee shop, library, Banquet Hall, playground and enrichment). These community services allow open interaction between residents of the neighborhood residents with adults and children with special needs, who are members of Amichai.
The Center activities are provided to members of the entire Amichai programs, with the aim to insert a built-in inclusion element into the fabric of life of the surrounding community, close and far away. Programs are tailored to different age groups of participants, so that at every stage in the life cycle we provide the appropriate combination (e.g. for children we emphasize on recreational activity and life skills, while adults will be interested in social life, housing and employment aspects of life).
Beit Amichai, being a regional inclusion center, incorporates diverse activities, some of which are conducted indoor while others are being operated outdoor., but all of these are linked to each other to form a complete and comprehensive inclusion package, targeted to bring people with developmental disabilities to equal status of their community mates. i.e.: "Living equally with the difference"
Our outreach inclusive program is based on a 2- circle approach; the resident and the outer circles. Each circle encompass many indoor and outdoor community based activities, all of which comprise the day- to day life for everybody.
1. The Inner circle - provides daily in-house inclusion and social participation and involvement activities, as well as joint in-house and outdoors activities within the surrounding neighborhood. The inner circle comprises up to 80% of the center activities.
As part of the inner circle concept the building and its facilities perform as a modern civic center, being available to the general community, allowing for structured joint activities together with the special needs people, including drama classes, hobby leisure activities, social games and film screenings. It also conducts joint activities with the next door senior citizens daycare and does attract Hod Sharon residents to its café and gift shop. Beit Amichai invites and encourages able-bodied children to enjoy integrative outdoor activities, the colorful sensory + virtual reality rooms and join our exciting social participation activities together with their challenged peers, and inspire adolescents and adults to volunteer their time
2. The outer circle - provides outreach diverse inclusion and social participation activities at outdoor locations within the surrounding cities and at distant locations, in order to ensure full involvement of our special needs members within the general public. The outer circle comprises at least 20% of the center activities.
The activities of the combined 2-circles approach implement our vision of full inclusion, where all facets of daily life skills are integrated into the routine of people with special needs, without prejudice.
The Inner circle is mainly comprised of Leisure inclusion activities for infants, kids and youth. Amichai, acting as a provider of complimentary inclusion support for children with special needs, does not intervene with family life and education at home or the public school system. We work together with family members and school teams to enrich and promote inclusion, while trying to match the services available to their peers and have our special needs kids enjoy, together with their peers, normal community life.
The Outer circle is mainly comprised of outreach inclusion activities for adults, per Amichai's strategic goal of full community integration of our members through housing, employment and leisure activities, throughout their entire life cycle.
Thus, Amichai's Inclusion Center serves as a hub for daily interaction, involvement and joint activity with local, municipal, regional and distant communities, overcoming gaps of stigma and prejudice, and generating a very tangible, active dialogue between the general community and its special members.
Beit Amichai Inclusion Center
Amichai's inclusion programs are structured for several age groups (pre-school, toddlers, children & youth, adults and the elderly) and all levels of developmental disabilities, coupled with physical, emotional and behavioral difficulties, as well as children & youth s on the autistic spectrum.
The programs we offer for toddlers, children and youth are supplementary to the leisure activities of the formal education system of the Ministry of Education. The guiding principle is to allow children and youth with special needs to enjoy the same leisure and recreational activities that are available to the children and youth of the wider general public, ranging from the structured after school programs (various hobby activities, assistance with homework, fitness center, computer programs, various games, life skills), complimented by social participation and involvement activities (summer camps, youth movement groups, excursions, fun days, library, cinema, theatre performances, music concerts etc.),- where in all the activities our special needs children are integrated with children from the regular education framework, within the surrounding population.
The programs for adults are based on the principle that a person with special needs, like any other individual, requires adequate housing, permanent and rewarding employment that is suited and enhances his capabilities and desires, leisure activities to enrich body and mind (sports, culture, visual media) and interaction with his environment- both distant and close by.
These concepts are expressed most clearly in the community housing and occupational programs of Amichai. Every house provides a home setting for 6 adults with severe mental disabilities, coupled with physical limitations who conduct an independent lifestyle (within their limitations) and with the help of live-in trained professionals. The tenants are responsible for their basic daily activities, including cooking, cleaning and personal hygiene. During the day, the adults are involved in employment opportunities befitting their skill levels. In the evening they return to their home where they engage in various activities, similar to regular members of the community, including shopping, health and wellness, entertainment and social participation. Individual members enjoy weekly outing to movies, local pub or visit relatives. The well trained and skilled support team promotes and conducts these inclusion activities in a "transparent" manner where the tenants are the "real owners".
It is worth noting that the people who live in Amichai homes are categorized by the Ministry of Welfare & Social Services as having medium to low functioning levels (low and medium mental retardation, coupled with physical disabilities). These tenants need 24/7 supervision. However, over more than a decade, this housing project has demonstrated each and every day that "anyone and everyone is able" and its success is a reflection and a realization of our overriding and guiding principle of "Living Equally With The Difference".
The Music Chorus
This project is another example of Amichai's community Inclusion activities. "Building a community" is a unique program designed to lead to a deeper knowledge among different populations. The project works at the initiative of the Department for youth and community in the city of Kfar Saba.
This weekly program brings together youth from junior and senior high school students with different young members of Amichai's local daycare (with intellectual & developmental disabilities). The members of the shared meetings undergo a professional workshop, which varies from year to year (juggling, music, theatre, etc.), during which they learn new topics and create a joint performance, which is presented at the end of the year in front of a large audience.
The outcome of the collaboration of the group members, coupled with shared experience they gained, will serve as fertile ground for true community inclusion and integration of Amichai's kids.
Building a community
The inclusion vision is embedded in all ongoing programs of Amichai. Specific interfaces with the community occur daily thru shared activities with children, teenagers and adults from different organizations, while purchasing public services provided to the community, while using the public transportation system, while shopping at a local mall, in a restaurant, etc.
Additionally, Amichai is affiliated with long-term inclusion projects, operating successfully for many years.
The Music Chorus project is an excellent example for such activity.
Music has Special magic that opens one's heart and enter many other hearts. Music was always capable to bridge gaps and unify people. Amichai "music at heart" project was initially started on early 2006 bringing together our daycare children and youth with students of the Music Department at two local high schools. The high school teens meet on a weekly basis, to sing and play musical instruments together with Amichai's daycare kids.
Musical encounters between students and Amichai's kids developed on both sides the sensitivity and tolerance needed to accept each other and work together in harmony as one complementary chorus. Since then the music chorus performs annually in public events, various conferences and even at the Knesset – The Israeli Parliament. The attached video is part of the chorus 2015 performance.