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Equal in Uniform

“Equal in Uniform”

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As part of AKIM Israel’s ongoing efforts to empower and to include persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in “community” life, a unique partnership was created with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

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Equal in Uniform – a program that prepares young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to serve in the IDF.

After graduating from high school, young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are usually relieved from compulsory army service and assigned to an occupational framework that segregates them from their peers. Not only that, it hurts the feelings of the person with IDD and the sense of belonging to society; it also sends the message to the “regular” population that people with IDD are not good enough to be an equal part of the Israeli society.

As part of AKIM Israel’s vision of inclusion, we established, in 2006, a unique collaboration with one of the greatest tools for integration and solidarity in the Israeli society, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Enlistment to the IDF is considered one of Israeli society’s most significant contributions and a rite of passage. Serving in the IDF is a crucial part of living in Israel; it reinforces connections to the land and its people and enhances camaraderie, intuition, and leadership values. For a person with IDD serving in the IDF constitutes a vital platform to integrate and feel included. The Equal in Uniform program enables hundreds of intellectually disabled young adults to volunteer, serve, and contribute to Israel’s safety and security. The soldiers fulfill the military service like every young Israeli is obligated to do.

Every year, AKIM Israel recruits, trains, supports, escorts, and empower hundreds of young adults ages 21–27 with IDD in an innovative pre-military training and military service in the IDF. The special-education high-school students end their studies at the age of 21.

After the pre-military training, participants are allocated to either an individual service track or a group service track according to the IDF’s needs and the participant’s age, wishes, and abilities. 

At the end of their military service, we give them another stage of training for life after the army. Many project participants feel that they can work in the free market and not in the special occupational programs Akim has.

We started the program back in 2006 with two soldiers. Today we are approaching 200 soldiers in 19 military bases (as groups), and many more serves as regular soldiers all over the army. 

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The pre-army program incudes

  1. 1. Recruiting potential candidates for enlistment or volunteering
  2. 2. Moving forward an intensive life-skills training, including practicing independent day-to-day life tasks using public transportation, learning social education, and more.
  3. 3. Physical challenges training followed by Gadna training week—practicing basic military discipline and conduct.
  4. 4. Military task-specific training, guided by the army unit, where the participants will be placed and serve.
  5. 5. Social coaching and psychological support for the soldiers with IDD.

The post-army program includes

  1. 1. Life skills, social coaching, and psychological support.
  2. 2. Employment mainstreaming orientation: to prepare the soldiers to find a proper job in the free labor market after finishing the military service.

The program’s coordinators conduct regular meetings with the soldiers with IDD, with “regular” soldiers who serve alongside our soldiers and their commanding officers. AKIM Israel continuously monitors the people’s feelings towards their officers, peers, and their self-esteem. Furthermore, AKIM’s professional staff helps resolve challenges and advise the commanding staff on improving the work with our soldiers when difficulties emerge. 

Our goals are

  • Increasing the number of young adults with IDD who enlist to the IDF.
  • Changing the attitudes of the Israeli public towards people with IDD.
  • • Serving in the IDF changes people’s attitudes with IDD about themselves and enables them to be more successful in integration in day-to-day life and the workforce in the free market.

We have met all our goals:

  • • We started in 2006 with two soldiers, and today we are approaching 200 soldiers on duty!
  • • Our soldiers are fully integrated into their units, and their commanders and fellow soldiers see them as equals. In fact, in 2020, one of our soldiers was recognized as an outstanding soldier receiving an award from Mr. Reuven Rivlin, the state President.
  • • Most of our graduates find jobs in the free market according to their abilities.

APART from the apparent goal to increase the number of young adults with IDD who enlist to the IDF, AKIM Israel aims at changing the attitudes of the Israeli public towards people with IDD. As the number of soldiers with IDD increases, the number of soldiers without IDD working near them also increases. Thus, we achieve the goal of inclusion. Research shows that when people work, live, and spend time with/near people with IDD, their attitudes towards them are becoming significantly more positive, and fear and rejection are resolved. Every soldier who will spend most of his/her days with a person with IDD in this program will communicate their positive attitudes to their social circle; thus, a long-term goal of changing attitudes towards people with IDD will also be achieved.

Another long-term goal is changing the attitudes of people with IDD about themselves. Our experience shows people feel more empowered as they are taking an active part in one of the Israeli society’s most significant ritual—serving and protecting the state of Israel. This program has a long-lasting impact on a person’s life as he/she will become more confident in their abilities and feel belonging to the general society. Participating in the program also helps them find a job in the free market in a community where an IDF service is considered a requirement.

The Equal in Uniform program is doing more than contribute to Israel’s security by assisting devoted soldiers in enlisting to the IDF—it promotes the moral stance of the IDF and Israel and sets a beautiful example of Jewish peoplehood. People with and without disabilities, supported by Jews worldwide, are working together to make the Israeli society more inclusive with more solidarity. It helps establish a stronger connection and a sense of belonging among the various Jewish groups and between Jews living outside of Israel and young Israelis who struggle to be acknowledged as equal partners in the Jewish peoplehood.

This program is a true manifestation of AKIM Israel’s motto that an inclusive society is a strong society.

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AKIM Israel serves as guardian for more than 1,500 persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, regardless of their faith, ethnic background, age or sex
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