Program to tailor ulpan for immigrants with disabilities

The new style Hebrew ulpan is specially tailored to teach those with special needs the language of their newly adopted country.

September 26, 2011 03:24
2 minute read.
empty classroom

empty classroom school_311. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)


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Immigrants with disabilities who feel locked out of the fast paced learning environment of the mainstream ulpan system, will soon have a new opportunity to study Hebrew if an initiative currently being piloted in Haifa is successful.

Under the auspices of Israel Unlimited, a partnership between the government, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Ruderman Family Foundation aimed at improving the overall inclusion of people with disabilities in society, the new style ulpan is specially tailored to teach those with special needs the language of their newly adopted country.

Accessibility for people in wheelchairs, shorter learning hours, an overall slower pace and teachers trained in special education and sign language are all elements that have been considered in this new style ulpan.

“The idea came from the field and we came with the research,” said Israel Unlimited’s Avital Sandler-Loeff. “It has been tried before or been addressed in individual cases but we hope that this program will also include helping immigrants with disabilities in a general sense be better absorbed in their new home.”

In Haifa, where the ulpan started in May and is being run in conjunction with the local AHVA Center for Independent Living, the program currently includes 20 new and veteran olim with varying types of disabilities who failed to learn Hebrew in the mainstream system.

“I couldn’t understand anything at the other ulpans”, commented one of the participants, a dance teacher who became clinically depressed after a serious traffic accident.

“Here the teacher explains slowly and clearly. You can ask her anything, again and again, and she explains calmly, patiently.”

Tatiana Sermon, the ulpan’s coordinator, is the one who came up with the idea and approached Israel Unlimited.

She herself is vision-impaired and was unable to attend ulpan after she made aliya due to ill health. While medical treatment has improved her vision and she was able to teach herself Hebrew at home with the help of a radio program ulpan, Sermon said she was resolved to set up a proper ulpan especially for people with disabilities.

While the current pilot is focused on teaching immigrants with disabilities in a group, Israel Unlimited’s Sandler- Loeff said she is working with the Education Ministry to not only expand this format to six other cities but also to provide training to existing ulpan teachers so they can better cater to the disabled immigrant population.

According to a survey carried out by the Myers-JDCBrookdale Institute in 2009, there are roughly 125,000 immigrants with disabilities, about one-third of them with severe disabilities. The research found that more than a third of these disabled immigrants don’t speak Hebrew at all, or do so very poorly, and almost 60 percent are illiterate in Hebrew despite being well-educated.

In addition, focus groups carried by Israel Unlimited revealed that not knowing Hebrew is a significant barrier in realization of entitlements and integration within society.

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