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innovating for a better quality of life for people with disabilities

On the occasion of the 8th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Permanent Missions of Israel and Germany to the United Nations and Beit Issie Shapiro held a panel discussion on: The Technology Revolution: Innovating for a Better Quality of Life for People with Disabilities on June 10, 2015 at the United Nations, New York. Madeleine Brecher, ICJW representative to the UN in NY, reports:

The Deputy Permanent Representatives of Israel and the Republic of Germany, H.E. Ambassador David Roet and H.E. Ambassador Heiko Thoms, opened the program explaining the commitment of each country to developing and utilizing technology and making it accessible to all citizens to reach their full potential.

Jean Judes, the Executive Director of Beit Issie Shapiro in Israel, explained her Center’s vision to promote inclusion and independence and enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities through the use of technology. At their Technology Consulting Center, they have found that touch-screen devices have opened up a whole new world to people with disabilities, empowering them, giving them voice, improving their motor and cognitive skills and providing them with a sense of capability and control with a greater level of independence than ever before. This panel was an opportunity to share their knowledge and “market education” by increasing awareness of the need to develop accessible apps, and provide consultation to developers. Jean moderated an excellent panel. It was also a unique opportunity for the audience to learn about the new technologies currently available to change lives.

We heard from the Commissioner’s Office for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Justice, in Israel who said that while many opportunities are opening for the disabled, often doors are shut for others. Her office does a balancing act making sure that newly-developed technologies are available to all who need them. 

Google Platforms’ representative spoke of their innovations which allow blind persons to use talk-back and “touch and hear” phones. Some of their tablets use braille, have increased magnification and hardware switch support. The Apple Distinguished Educator in the Assistive Technology Center said it’s more than access. It’s giving access to accessibility! They have set up global camps for kids to experiment with the available technology at special tech camps. Their slides were remarkable; we could see just how these young kids were afforded new and thrilling opportunities to learn important life skills. 

Jean Judes then delivered a slide presentation showcasing personal success stories from the children at Beit Issie Shapiro. It was incredible to see how thinking outside the box and forming strategic partnerships with innovators in technology has made Beit Issie a leader in the field of disabilities. It is exciting to report that the Beit Issie Shapiro Center in Israel is a special consultant to the UN on disabilities.

Finally we heard from the CEO of Sesame Enable, a brilliant start-up company in Israel which developed a touch-free smart phone for kids and adults who do not have the use of their hands. Tablets are controlled by head movements. Oded Ben Dov told how he partnered with a young paraplegic gentlemen to form their company and through grants and different partnerships, they are already meeting tremendous success promoting their technology around the world. Sesame Enable epitomizes Israel’s reputation as a start-up country.

This program today was surely one of the most heartening and inspirational I’ve attended in my 10 years at the UN. From the buzz around me, everyone seemed to agree.