AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Yuval Wagner & Michal Rimon from Access Israel

April 01, 2022 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Yuval Wagner & Michal Rimon from Access Israel
Show Notes Transcript

Yuval Wagner – President & Founder at Access Israel Org Accessibility, Inclusion, Accessible Technology, Assistive Technologies, Smart cities Accessibility.
Michal Rimon – since 2007 CEO of Access Israel.

This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript and will need to be checked if you wish to publish it.

AXSCHAT:

Yuval Wagn and Michal Rimon

DEBRA:

Hello everyone, today I am representing Axschat. Unfortunately Antonio had a small eye surgery, let's keep him in in our prayers and thoughts and Neil is coming back on the train which apparently got real, real slow. So, he was not able to join us. And we are hoping Yuval will join us later and we'll talk a little more about that later on but right now it's the women, its women saving the world, right?

MICHAL:

Girl power. Absolutely.

DEBRA:

That's right, girl power. So we have the wonderful, beautiful, brilliant Michal Rimon on here from Access Israel. We are so proud at Axschat to support what they are doing at Access Israel, because it is not just about Israel because even if it was just about Israel, we would be thrilled but they really are taking what they have done in Israel which is so impressive in making sure the rest of the world can benefit and we can all come together and that, I am very grateful for Michal, I am very grateful that you are doing that. And very glad that Billion Strong was part of your efforts. What we wanted to talk about today was, if we get in trouble should we be helping each other, right? If somebody in our community, if people in our community are in trouble, should we help them? And of course, we should. I have been so impressed how Access Israel has really stepped up to support people with disabilities in Ukraine and actually other countries and so that is what we wanted to talk about, and I know we recently talked about Access Israel and the global work that they're doing to make sure that we can all included. But I think at a time right now where so many people in trouble, we need to talk how do you really be the change and to me Michal, that is what you are doing. So do you mind telling the audience again a little bit about who you are and just in case they have not seen the other shows and who is Access Israel and what are you all doing?

MICHAL:

Well, no problem, first of all thank you for your kind introduction. I'm Michal Rimon and I'm the CEO, I always say I am the proud CEO of Access Israel I am proud of the projects we are doing, the achievements, the accomplishments. But most of all the people, the volunteers, the employees, the partners because this is what it is all about. And I came to Access Israel 14 and a half years ago. I thought I'm coming only for two years, just to learn the ropes on NGO's and I got stuck and I love being stuck here. Access Israel is an organisation which started 22 years ago by Yuval Wagn, who I really hope will join us. Yuval is a son of a father in a wheelchair, basically spent his childhood with a father in a country that is not accessible. He had to lift him, pick him up...

DEBRA:

And sometimes Wi-Fi does not want to work. So we are going to hope that that Wi-Fi comes back and let's Michal.

MICHAL:

Can you hear me Debra or did I cut off?

DEBRA:

You cut off Michal right when you were talking about a very important part, and don't worry about it. We all understand Wi-Fi problems.

MICHAL:

No problem. No, it's not Wi-Fi, it's Yuval trying to call.

DEBRA:

Oh, it is? Oh okay. But I loved the part that you were telling about Yuval and his father.

MICHAL:

So he saw it as a child from the angle of a child whose father is not able to do things in a non-accessible country and then he went to the Air Force, he was a pilot of a helicopter and unfortunately, not long after he finished the course basically there was a problem with the ruder on the helicopter and he had an accident and it's a miracle that he survived and he became paralyzed neck down. And he got to experience it first-hand basically, what he already knew from his father and 22 years ago he basically wrote a letter to the President of Israel. You know how we learn in social studies to write letters to the officials, to the mayor, to the President, well he did it. He did not really expect an answer. But here we are talking about the devil, here we are. He didn't really expect an answer and then the President called him two days later and spoke. Yuval, just mute yourself.

DEBRA:

I muted him.

MICHAL:

So that is a good part of this digital world, we can mute whoever we want. But basically, the President said, stop talking, start doing. Establish an organisation and this is how Access Israel started at the Presidential Lawn in Israel and I can tell you two years ago we actually had our 20 anniversaries again, at the Present's lawn, with President Rivlin and there's no doubt that Israel in these last two decades has changed a lot. And you know we always say the half empty part of the cup is very empty. My job is secure. I have a lot of things to do in the next years. But the half full is amazing and impressive. So this is Access Israel and this is Yuval as you can see.

DEBRA:

Yes, but I did not know the part of his story about his fear, how interesting that life gave you the opportunity Yuval to experience disability from different perspectives. That's pretty powerful and your father must have been so frustrated not having his home be accessible, whose home country be accessible. So many other people are experiencing that as well? Yuval, I did unmute you now. Maybe he can't hear us and that is okay.

YUVAL:

Can you hear me?

DEBRA:

We can hear you.

YUVAL:

I didn't hear the question because it was not connected but I got the idea, I think. Well, I think my father, in his days they didn't expect anything, this was life. Son stayed at home and son just had to do it, had to manage. And I think that they really felt rehabilitated when they had been able to do whatever they want even though it was very challenging and totally not accessible. But the biggest question is why, why did they not say we expect society and the environment and life to be accessible? And you know, there was a strange thing about it. They were living in an un accessible era, doing the best and probably doing amazing things, breakthroughs but they didn't do the revolution that they should have. They expected, they accepted life as it was and not to change it.

DEBRA:

Right. And then came Yuval.

MICHAL:

Then came Yuval.

DEBRA:

And Yuval, why because I know we are talking about how we support each other during times you know, tough times. But, why did you think you could make a difference by writing the President?

YUVAL:

I didn't think it about me, I was just saying that I realised that it's not accessible. That I am suffering from that. That it's not logic and I said to myself, I am going to be the same father to my kids and the kids will they are going to live the same way I lived, with my father. So, I would be able to do things with them and they will be able to do things with me because things are inaccessible. So, I wasn't talking about I am doing the change. I wrote a letter to the President of Israel saying to him listen Israel is inaccessible. How do you expect me to teach the kids to love their country, if they can't even travel in the country okay? How can I be a father if cannot go to the school to the Parents’ Day meetings and etc. So, I wrote a letter to the President, listen you are the President of Israel the country, the State should do something about it. What he did smartly he changed the world upside down and said Yuval okay great idea, do it. I will support you. So, that was actually happening. That the second, today we are talking about a Friday. I was just in Israel, it's afternoon. I just came out from my afternoon rest and that was the time that the President called me and at that call he changed my life, 22 years. I was not expecting. I never planned to find a non-profit, I never planned to change.

DEBRA:

Change the world?

YUVAL:

Hopefully. But then I realised something very personal and very, I understood that maybe the path of my life, being a kid of a parent with a disability and then having myself being a person with disability myself and being a father of kids with disabilities and luckily, very luckily staying alive from this accident that you know it's one of the billion to stay alive from some kind of this accident. Then maybe, there is something that is bigger than all of us, saying that this is my life mission to do something good in this area.

DEBRA:

I agree, right and the reality is, Israel, I think is the most accessible country in the world. I really do believe it. A lot of people will think the States are. But we still have. You know once again the States are a little bit bigger than Israel but still, we still have so much. I was on a show the other day and they were saying you know we have had our Americans with Disability Act; I should come up on. I should do the numbers. It's an easy one. It's 90. We passed it. We are coming up on. We are 22 years, I guess in the summertime. But our unemployment rates for people with severe disabilities in the United States are worse than ever before. So that is sort of discouraging, and yet things have happened, we have done things. But I just love, do you still have the letter that you wrote to the President?

YUVAL:

Yeah, I should have it somewhere.

DEBRA:

You should put that on the website because you know, we have all, what if a young Yuval is listening to this and think well gosh, I'm going to follow his lead because that was 22 years ago, and you have all accomplished so much. So much.

MICHAL:

By the way Debra when you go to the President's house today. They have an amazing video of each President, their legacy, one thing they supported and for President Weizman, it's Yuval and Access Israel. So, disability is really an amazing thing. But I think from this we can easily go to that subject we wanted to talk because what Yuval did, Yuval said I'm basically said I am not sitting on my couch or my wheelchair or complaining what we are doing. And I think in the last month, we were at zero project in Vienna, we heard about things that are happening and basically, you came back, and we saw the news, we were really touched by it and bothered by it and then Yuval came to me and said basically, we have to do something. We have to do something. It's not something we can sit and just watch on the news. And I think that one of the things that made it even stronger is that Yuval said listen, if it was here in Israel, I don't know what I would have done. I'm not sure I would have the strength or the will to go out. So, that is how Access Israel basically started with that and if we spoke last time about our international work then I said then and I will repeat it again. I think one of the amazing things it's not Access Israel is teaching the world. We are all teaching, and we are all learning from each other. It is the power of together and the power of network. And I think that you know, it doesn't matter whether it's developing country, developed country, you learn from everyone and there is amazing innovations and amazing Yuval’s everywhere in the world and what we need to do is just join hands and just become a Billion Stronger. So that is the basis of what we are doing in Ukraine today because it's not that I or Yuval or Access Israel can be everywhere there. It's a big country, a lot of borders and we understood that you know you can come and effect the drop of the sea. But that is not the power of what we can deliver. That is not leveraging on what we are doing and what we basically are doing there now is we are taking that network. We are expanding the network. We are mapping who is there and I think that one of the crazy things that we see there is that you have amazing organisations, amazing individuals that stop their life and left everything and came to help. Came to the ground. They are the hero’s, okay? Definitely. The problem is they are the heroes for whoever wants to evacuate and get out and can do it you know from point A to point B and from point B to point C and you pass through several points in Ukraine and then you come to the border, and you pass through several other points. The problem is, you are forgetting that people with disabilities, every leg on the way, every A to B. B to C is a journey, is a journey that you cannot just on a whim, you cannot on a whim go and do it. You have to really understand what you're facing. What is going to happen, and I will end in one sentence and then I will let Yuval also elaborate on that. That you remember December 3rd, we all were moved by the beautiful purple lights on buildings all over the world and the message is leaving no one behind and the power and the rights of people with disabilities and inclusive employment. All the really important statements. The thing is less than two and a half months after lighting up the world in purple and going out with those statements, we see that what we pledged or what the world pledged did not happen. Again people with disabilities and the elderly were left behind and I am a talking of course not specific case because there were those that were taken and helped but in general they were left behind. So, what we decided in Access Israel is to combine basically four things we are good at. One is we are taking the purple colour and we are turning it into the purple vest mission. That is the name. Remember that. We should all be part.

DEBRA:

I love it.

MICHAL:

Purple vest mission. We are taking that purple and turning it into action. We are taking that purple and we want to make sure that in all the borders, in all the news reports, in all the articles that you hear, you see people with purple vests and that is a message. It's a message to the world and it's a message for people with disabilities and the elderly. Somebody is waiting there for me. Somebody there knows what I need, and I will be taken care of. So maybe I will put myself together and go on the journey. So, one is the purple vest mission. What that includes is first of all, evacuations, we are leading, what Yuval calls it, special forces task. We are taking the tough cases. We are taking the cases that really are difficult to handle and every case is a case on its own and every case is something that we really need to find the right solution. So, evacuations and again I'm reminding you I'm not there. There are heroes over there. What we are doing is connecting those heroes. We are taking making sure from A to B to C to the end point, all those heroes know a person with disability is coming, knowing what to do with them and that person with disability has comfort in knowing that. So the third thing is Access Israel is known globally for the training we do. So, we are going to take that training and we are going to take the experience we have, and Yuval will elaborate on that, he is a . der in Israel in emergency time legislation and emergency time preparedness. And what we are doing is we are taking the knowledge and the experience that we have and we're turning it into training for volunteers in the borders. For border controllers. For everybody that will want, they will receive it in digital, our first training is this Tuesday at 11 o’clock Israel time and we are going to digitally provide the basic tools, the basic concept on how to provide accessible service. Why is it more difficult for people with disabilities? And lastly, we are doing a website that basically we'll bring all the information together in one place. So, it will be accessible, and it will be ready for everybody, with success stories, to get people to really know what is ahead of them and when needed we are going to purchase ambulances, vehicles because that is what is missing there. That is the purple vest mission.

DEBRA:

So, it sounds like you need some funding too for that purple vest mission.

MICHAL:

Always.

DEBRA:

I love the colour purple. But I love for those of us that can see to see that there is the purple vest, and they are there for me. That would be, at a time when you're so traumatised and so freaked to know somebody for a change was there for you. How beautiful is that? Like the Red Cross, we all know, and the Red Cross is for everybody, I get it, but the thing is, as Michal said there are special needs. And not like oh include. No. There are just some realities that people have to deal with and I just walked a lot of these with my husband and the realities are harsh and also, as Yuval has said to me multiple times, it's very important that people that really understand the walk are leading the cause and that is one reason why I am glad that Yuval was not interested in only making sure Israel was accessible but that we all got it right. I know that he is a big mentor to me and is not afraid to tell me what he thinks. And by the way I really, really am grateful for that because sometimes people don't want to tell you things, they don't want to hurt your feelings, but Yuval really, really wants change. So do you Michal, so do I. I love that we are Stronger Together. But once again, I don't know Yuval, if you want to answer this or Michal but I was wondering if you would just dig in a little bit more about some of the things you're seeing because I think a lot of people that watch Axschat know what you're talking about but once again, what if I can't see the purple vest, what if I can't hear. So, I was just wondering, if you all just dig in a little of some of the things you have seen just to help ground what you're doing?

YUVAL:

We follow the examples that Michal can share with some of the cases which is on the war evacuation it is a different ball game. But you know I'm a person with disability and you have to understand, the first thing we have to understand that for people with disabilities, you know what, for everyone war is a loose, loose situation.

DEBRA:

Agree.

YUVAL:

Now for people with disabilities, it's even harder, seven times worse for people with disabilities. Just imagine, you know your listeners here, they are at zero temperature and less. No power, no heaters, no elevators to go out of the buildings. No one brings you food. No one brings you medicine. No one brings you equipment. Now staying at home wow, when is it going to end? When are people going to assist me? Am I going to die here? It's actually holistic. Okay, I want to go out. I want to evacuate. Can it really be happening? Can I do such five days journey under fire minus temperatures. Again, it's crazy. You know, it's a loose, loose situation. You don't know what to do.

DEBRA:

Right, yeah.

YUVAL:

To the person without disabilities that can manage it they go out. But those that have those hard disabilities that are in the loose, loose situation and they don't know what to do this is where he we emphasise on either and here is something very unique that we learned in the last few days about the slogan don't leave them behind.

DEBRA:

Right.

YUVAL:

Because there are two kinds of don't leave them behind and help them go out. And they have don't leave them behind that if they decide to stay, still don't leave them behind and help them stay.

DEBRA:

Right.

YUVAL:

Okay. It's something that we learned for the first time.

MICHAL:

That was an aha moment. Real aha moment.

YUVAL:

Because in the beginning when we talked about evacuation, and then we talked about, wait don't leave them behind is also helping them stay if that is what is their decision, if we evacuate them. So, after the evacuation the amazing idea of Michal with the purple vest mission is that in order for that to work you have, it's not just you know ad hoc evacuation mission, small missions. It's we have to start arranging in bigger size, taking care of more people. In many places, in the borders, in the train stations, in many hubs, in many registration places, with organisations. So it's very complicated to go to the second stage and all of this is under that you never know what happens tomorrow.

DEBRA:

Right.

YUVAL:

Everything is being changing every day. So it's very complex, but it's about saving lives. That is, it. Saving lives. And corporations with many organisations and they have the social hubs, and they have the Israelis, many, many organisations are doing amazing jobs and international organisations and Michal maybe you can take here for more.

MICHAL:

Yeah, first of all you mentioned the network. So first of all, this whole purple vest mission is relying on and being helped greatly by the social work hub in Vienna which in 2015 developed a CRM to assist then with the refugees and he is basically taking it out of the draw and making it in use now. And I think this is the whole idea. The idea is that eventually after Ukraine, we are going to have a system that as far as I'm concerned that would be in a draw waiting for the next and the next disaster will happen, the next earthquake, the next Tsunami, the next war, the next anything will happen.

DEBRA:

Plus, it's already happened. I think of people like our CIO, Nabil, he's in Syria. In Syria it's freezing and yet they get 30 minutes of electricity a day. Does anybody remember Syria is still there and I love the point you all said that leaving no one behind means maybe they want to stay behind, and you support them. So, I just wanted to bring that point up. It's so needed.

MICHAL:

Debra, it's one of the aha moments I had in the 14 and a half years, we are all the time talking about don't be paternalistic. All the time and all the training we are talking about because you're not with a disability, you know best, you don't know best, you have to ask the person with disability in general, specifically in time of war. Do you need help and what the help you need and how do you want it? And if you want to stay, we are there for you. And I can tell you I'm trying to recap and again for the last three and a half weeks I'm going to sleep with this and waking up with this and it's engulfing my life basically and I can tell you that the stories are terrible. The stories are terrible. And when you're thinking about you know today, we were in a car with one of the national organisations for disabilities in Ukraine, an amazing group of people that added something that I was not aware of. We know there is about 2.7 registered people with disabilities in Ukraine and it turns out that half of them is on or under the poverty line. So it's not that they had means of really finding a way to go out and so, we have to keep that in mind also and basically I can tell you when you were talking about funds. We need funds all the time now for this. We are not waiting for funds. I'm not waiting for funds. We are already operating it and doing it full force. But the thing is the power, you know every $2,000 that we receive enables me to get a call and hear about somebody who is after operation because he was bombarded. He has to be hospitalised ed and he has to be mobilised in a horizontal way. An ambulance cost a, €1,000 $1,500, I don't have to think twice and I say yes, I don't take the money and divide the people I want to save and say sorry the quota is, I help whoever we can with whatever means and we are taking the tough calls and again as Yuval said and that is very point. Any organisation that is hearing us, any organisation, which is there on the ground. Any volunteer contact Access Israel join the purpose vest mission. And I am telling you again they are the heroes, they are the ones that receive the credit and need the credit and we are the connectors. We want to make sure that the sequence of accessibility that we have always been talking about. Physical accessible is great but if the road is accessible and the pavement is accessible but the entrance to the building is not accessible then you get to a building and you cannot go in. And any obstacles on the way in will cut the sequence. That was the physical world. Now in the evacuation process and taking care of people with disabilities and elderly, the sequence has to be there, and we have to make sure, and we have to make sure. We have to make sure that we have that sequence kept. And this is something that we are doing for the last three and a half weeks and you know again, Yuval gave examples and I think it's very important for people to understand it, think about you know people living in buildings, meaning that you know, nice buildings, ninth floor, ten floors high and while they were there in the building regularly now in Halco for example, there is no power. The elevators don't work. Food doesn't come in and even if people want to bring food it's not like you go into the supermarket and stock up. There is no food in the supermarket necessarily and people gather food from all kinds of sources and its real survival and that is, we cannot sit on the side and read about it and see it. Each one help in your way. You are a PR guy, contact us. Help us make PR. You do something else. Anything, anything you can help with. This is what we are looking for?

DEBRA:

Michal, I would also say, and I know I have kept you all longer than normal, but this is an important conversation. You know right now the purple vest mission is, they have already started. They don't have it altogether yet and they are starting to help people. If you’re a major corporation and you have volunteers, I know I am going to just give an example, I know that LinkedIn has 70,000 employees that volunteer to help others. All of the major corporations usually are doing that. You want to make a difference, give to the purple vest mission so that support people with disabilities and older people that are so vulnerable and fighting for their lives and we'll build upon this and bring others. I know the World Institute on Disabilities under Marthy Ross they have done a lot with the emergency response thing. Let's bring them in. Let's all come together to help each other.

MICHAL:

Absolutely, I can tell you just one last point. LinkedIn. And organisation that is there, contact us. We'll do a training for your volunteers. Pack them up with purple vests that is it, go there and be part of this movement. Let's make sure we are not leaving anyone behind. That is a key.

DEBRA:

It's the key and also, we are the community, as Yuval says to me all the time. We are the community. We need to take care of ourselves. So Yuval, I know that we are out of time and I want to thank My Clear Text for keeping us online. We are so grateful to them for supporting us. So grateful. But I want to give you the last words Yuval and I know your Wi-Fi has been acting up, so if it acts up, we understand. But please may I give you the last words? You can't hear me?

YUVAL:

Now I can hear you.

DEBRA:

I want to give you the last words.

YUVAL:

Okay, so Debra thank you for this opportunity to be hosted as Axschat. It's amazing. These are special times, and we just can't sit on the bench and look on the TV and say wow, you know, and we are still living our lives like nothing happened.

DEBRA:

Right.

YUVAL:

This is something. It's one of those times especially us that are caring for people with disabilities, have to do something. And it's from being interested from the intonations and actually being trained to be a purple vest service giver or any other thing. You can do so many things. But just at the end of these horrible times that those Ukrainians have, just don't be the one that says I could have done something, but I didn't jump to do it.

DEBRA:

I agree.

YUVAL:

And there are so many things you can do, and we just have to make sure that we do the maximum we can to don't leave them behind because we ourselves, if we were in that situation, we would probably call out help, help, help. Let's help them. And let's save lives because people there are realistically in high risk of life and it's a mission.

DEBRA:

And you know what, it's time to stop watching television and to act. And so right now they don't have a website up yet but are working on it. So go to Access Israel. Very easy to find Access Israel on social media. They are global connectors, as Michal said, and we are stronger together. So let's not leave anybody behind which even if they want to stay behind. their beloved country which by the way, that is a normal response. So, thank you all both for coming on at the last minute but I wanted us to talk about the Ukraine and any people that are in trouble and what we can do as a community. So, I'm grateful.

MICHAL:

Thank you for the opportunity.

DEBRA:

We love you; we love the work. Very proud to be supporting you Rue Global Impact and Billion Strong. But Neil Antonio and I thank you. Thank you very much.

MICHAL:

Thank you very much.

DEBRA:

Bye.

MICHAL:

Bye, bye Page | 2