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Accessibility and sensitivity to accessibility has very different meanings depending upon what one can see and experience. I’ve been very fortunate in having learned about accessibility when I lived in India and Nepal from 2009–16. But then being able to pay more attention when I came back to the US has also enabled me to form stronger opinions and to see the possibilities.

Prior to 2009 I wasn’t very sensitive to accessibility for people with disability. Once I started working/volunteering in India with the Government of India-Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment-National Trust my perspective changed.

In New Delhi, where I lived from 2009–12, there were many disability rights advocates. At the very popular tourist destination, the open air market Dilli Haat, advocates had worked to ensure accessibility. There are also numerous other places that are touted as being “disabled friendly”. However, outside of the major cities, accessibility was very challenging.

While in Nepal from 2012–16 I was injured twice playing basketball and used crutches to get around. For the people that I knew in Kathmandu who used a wheelchair, pushing through the streets was incredibly difficult. I’m not really sure how they dealt with this except that there were few alternatives. Accessibility seemed to be more limited in Nepal than in India.

In 2016 I came back to the US and acquired a greater understanding of accessibility at least from an able-bodied US perspective. I even badgered people who parked in “handicapped” spaces that didn’t have a permit.

According to the NGO Access Israel , “Over 1.6 million people with disabilities live in Israel today (18% of the population). About 700,000 of them deal with severe disabilities whether from birth or inflicted by car / work accidents, illness, old age, or wars / terrorism. They all suffer from physical, sensory, cognitive disabilities. The lack of accessibility prevents them from leading a normal life, causing them and their families' great suffering.”

We all carry expectations, biases based upon our experiences. My expectation of Israel was that accessibility would be similar to the US. The following is what I observed.

The first hotel that we stayed at K’far Maccabiah was wonderful. The rooms were very accessible. But after a little while, along with our wheelchair basketball players, I began to notice things such as “handicapped” parking, with no curb cut except at the front door of the hotel but the lack of a push button on “accessible” entrances. (I’m not really sure if handicapped parking is fully observed in Israel.) One of our athletes needed a day chair as he wasn’t able to bring his from the US. Although we tried numerous times to obtain a day chair that he could push, he was provided with a hospital chair.

On Thursday morning July 7th Mo, Seth, Ted, our Team Manager, and I had an early practice and after went to Caesarea. After lunch which was on a hill and in which we had to carry the “hiking chairs” we were going hiking. In my mind I thought that the hike would be a fairly flat surface with the use of hiking chairs, as I know from the US, making it easy for enjoying an inclusive hike. This was my assumption but wasn’t the case. The “hiking chairs” were more like chariots that had to be pulled and carried and the trail had numerous embedded rocks and was steep in many places. We had some younger basketball players, who fortunately didn’t get injured, helping with the chariots. We only made it .3 miles on the trail when we decided to turn back.

The “hike” was an “aha” moment for me in which contradicting definitions of accessibility came into play. I so appreciated the intent of making this an inclusive hike, enabling the athletes to participate with everyone else in a beautiful area in Israel.

To me, accessibility means providing an opportunity for a person with disability to enjoy, in this case a hike, the ability to push on their own with limited help, i.e., empowerment. Possibly a discussion prior to having the hike would have made sense so that we all had input as to whether or not this would work. More than anything else this proved to be a learning moment for all of us. I do think that it’s important to offer this type of opportunity again but with a bit more forethought.

On Friday we went to Tel Aviv, a beautiful city on the Mediterranean. We went to a few markets, one of which, Carmel Market, was extremely crowded but we pushed through. The paths in Tel Aviv seemed relatively accessible and my feeling was that everyone was able to enjoy.

On Saturday we went to Masada and the Dead Sea. Masada uses a tram to get people to the top during the summer. Walking around or pushing on Masada had some challenges although there were numerous somewhat accessible paths. The question is how far does a government go in making areas accessible given historical significance? How do you balance these things out while maintaining the integrity of, e.g., Masada? Part of the issue came from the fact that Mo’s wheelchair was difficult to maneuver but with help from our Israeli friends, things did work out.  

I found the Dead Sea to be much more challenging. In order to get to the water both Mo and Seth were able to take a golf cart from the top area down to not too far from the water. Both Seth and Mo are able to walk, Seth typically without assistance. But the “path” to the water was somewhat slippery and there were multiple sets of steps. Once one was able to get into the water, the bottom was full of soft mud and sink holes in which one could lose their water shoes and balance. After floating it was also somewhat difficult to stand up and there was a slippery bank which had to be traversed. However, through patience and help from other athletes we did this and all were able to float. There also was a pier which we didn’t access but possibly this might have been simpler? 

Language is also a very important consideration and needs to be respectful. Although if we don’t know the proper terminology we often misspeak. Having COVID I was moved from K’far to Sheyfayim in order to quarantine and was given the envelope to the left with my room key. I was taken aback by the word “handicap” basketball knowing that I was working with athletes. If anything, when able-bodied people play wheelchair basketball we are the ones who are definitely “handicapped”.

When I finally made it to Jerusalem Mo’s chair had been replaced with a “new’ one, except that it was very old. I think that it was easier for him to push, although the wheels were almost bald, but the chair did have metal spokes, something which we had been requesting.

As I walked through Jerusalem, the Machaneh Yehudah Market and the Old City I looked for examples of people using wheelchairs. Some did use power chairs but others were manual. The Old City with its cobble stone paths, steep inclines, etc., seemed particularly challenging but people got along.

My purpose in writing this piece has been to further educate myself and also hopefully enlarge perspectives on accessibility.  I certainly don’t have many answers as I’m a constant student, and given that I work in adapted sports, in the disability field. My hope is that I’ve added to the conversation about what accessibility means and how we might dig a little deeper to level the playing field. I always see room for discussion and improvement but I am looking at this from my currently able body and also from what I think the athletes that I have the honor to coach, experience. I welcome any feedback about other perspectives and how we continue to make progress.












Position: Lover of Life-Change Agent

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