Bar-Ilan University’s Empowerment (“Otzmot”) Program is among five international winners (and the only Israeli winner) of the third annual Ruderman Prize in Inclusion. The Ruderman Family Foundation honors organizations worldwide that operate innovative programs and provide services that foster the full inclusion of people with disabilities in their local Jewish community.
“The Ruderman Prize in Inclusion has truly become an international recognition of excellence for the inclusion of people with disabilities in our worldwide Jewish community,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “It is our hope that these awards will inspire Jewish organizations around the world to embrace the inclusion of people with all abilities in our community.”
“I was elated and most thankful to learn that we have received the Ruderman Prize,” said Prof. Hefziba Lifshitz-Vahav, of the Churgin School of Education, who developed and directs the Program based on research and theories supporting the assumption that adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) can tap into latent learning ability. “The 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities mandates an inclusive education system for all people. At the Churgin School of Education, we are putting this right into action, and I am thankful for the privilege my peers and I have been granted to work in a field that combines scientific research with humanitarian and humanistic values,” she added.
The Empowerment Program, of the Lois Alberto Machado Chair for Research on Cognitive Modifiability at Bar-Ilan’s Churgin School of Education, offers students with ID an opportunity to study at Bar-Ilan University and those who are capable to earn a bachelor’s degree, as well. A three-stage program, Empowerment began in 2012 with 26 students with Down’s syndrome in stage one and 12 in stage two.
Strengthen the Self-image and Confidence of Students with ID
Students in the first stage study for four academic hours one day a week at the Churgin School of Education, taking courses in developmental psychology, self-advocacy, and in using the library and computers. The lecturers are students in the Master’s track, where teaching in the Empowerment Program is part of the practicum. The second stage of the Program integrates ID students with typical students in a BA research seminar with an emphasis in Special Education. Stage three allows qualified ID students to be integrated into two undergraduate courses for which they can earn academic credit for their work.
Ultimately, the Empowerment Program seeks to socially integrate ID individuals through mingling with typical students in and out of class, strengthen the self-image and confidence of students with ID, and change attitudes towards the learning potential of adults with ID at the University and in society as a whole.
First Program of its Kind in Israel
The Empowerment Program is the first of its kind in Israel and one of a handful of such programs that exist around the world.
Additional winners of this year’s Ruderman Prize in Inclusion include four programs dedicated to employment, mentoring, leadership training and full inclusion in communal activities. They are:
- JewishCare’s Big Brother Big Sister Mentoring Program of Australia – a mentoring program for Jewish children through to young people who may be facing challenges and adversity in their lives.
- Jewish Family Services Alexander Institute for Inclusion – a Houston, Texas-based initiative dedicated to engaging local communities in vital discussions on how to meaningfully include people with disabilities.
- The Jewish Community Center of the Greater St. Paul Area (Minnesota), which aspires to provide children, teens and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities the opportunity to be welcomed and fully participate in any and all programs offered by the JCC.
- Jewish Vocational Services of Toronto, Canada, which helps people succeed by providing outstanding employment, social and educational services which meet the changing needs of the Jewish community.
Each winner will receive $50,000 to continue their work and pursue new opportunities for inclusion in their local communities.
“When my daughter meets non-disabled people and tells them about her studies at Bar-Ilan — their eyes open wide in amazement — they simply can’t believe it’s true! As her mother, I’m constantly amazed anew. The academics, the faculty support, the companionship of the regular students, and the challenge of standard coursework give my daughter a very, very good feeling, a fantastic self-image, and most importantly a strong desire to keep learning, advance and achieve, ” enthuses the mother of one of the Empowerment Program participants.