The Empowerment Program of the Lois Alberto Machado Chair for Research on Cognitive Modifiability, at Bar-Ilan University’s School of Education, which helps students with intellectual disabilities to participate in university-level classes, is one of the five winners of the 2014 Ruderman Prize in Inclusion, awarded to organizations in the Jewish community worldwide operating innovate programs and services advancing the inclusion of the disabled in society.

The program was developed and directed by Prof. Hefziba Lifshitz- Vahav, head of the Specialization in Intellectual Disability, based on research and theories supporting the assumption that adults with intellectual disabilities can tap into latent learning ability.

“I was elated and most thankful to hear that we had received the Ruderman Prize in Inclusion,” Lifshitz-Vahav said. “The Empowerment Program fits well with the values of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which believes that individuals with disabilities deserve equality in both Jewish and universal society.”

The Empowerment Program offers three levels of academic inclusion depending on the students’ level of function, from weekly academic enrichment classes to full integration into university courses. The program is the first of its kind in the country, and one of a handful of such programs in the world.

“We applaud Bar-Ilan University for leading the efforts for educational inclusion for students with intellectual disabilities.

We know that access to a post-secondary education leads to better outcomes for these students in all areas of life, especially in employment,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “Education is the great equalizer and it is important that individuals with intellectual disabilities have the same access to university as anyone else. We look forward to the day when every college and university in Israel opens its doors to anyone with an interest to learn, regardless of their learning style or disability,” he said.

The prize, now in its third year, will award $50,000 to each of the winners. This year’s winners include programs dedicated to employment, higher education, mentoring, leadership training and full inclusion in communal activities and schools.

Another recipient, Jewish- Care’s Big Brother Big Sister Mentoring Program from Sydney, mentors Jewish children and youth facing challenges and adversity. The mentoring program has developed strong links within the community to raise awareness about issues facing youth with disabilities, and about the importance of their inclusion into society.

The Jewish Family Services Alexander Institute for Inclusion in Houston, is another recipients of this year’s prize.

Through training community leaders in arts and education programs, the institute aims to engage local communities in vital discussions on how to meaningfully include people with disabilities and reduce related stigmas.

Another winner is the Jewish Community Center of the Greater St. Paul Area in Minnesota, whose Inclusion and Accessibility Services Program aims to provide children, teenagers and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities the opportunity to be welcomed and fully participate in any programs offered by the center.

This year’s prize will also be also awarded to the Jewish Vocational Service of Toronto, which provides employment, social and educational services for the Jewish community.

The JVS offers specialized programming for disabled populations, helping them find and maintain jobs. “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,” Ruderman said.

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