When parents discover that their child has a significant, and most likely, lifelong disability, it is an earth-shattering moment.
Time is needed to absorb the shock, and even more time is needed to rally the energies and capacities that are vital to adjusting to the new reality.
Now 25 years ago, I founded Ofek Liyladenu (Our Children’s Horizon), an Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to guiding parents of children who are blind and sight-impaired and helping their children gain access to the resources they need.
As the mother of a daughter who is blind, I passionately believed that I could help my daughter fulfill her potential and lead a meaningful life. From a very young age, it was clear that she would take her rightful place in our family, community and Israeli society.
As Ofek Liyladenu marks its 25th anniversary, it is heartening to witness that my dream, and the dream that I share with diverse families throughout Israel, is being brought to life.
We have reached critical milestones, overcome unimaginable barriers – and our achievements provide us with the strength to confront the challenges of a new era.
Blind children are a relatively small minority of the special needs population in Israel (for example, there are some 320,000 hearing impaired people in Israel contrast with 24,000 blind people.
Among the blind people, about 15% are children). Yet, the significant limitations imposed by visual impairments require proportionately more resources and accommodations. Because Ofek Liyladenu was founded by parents, we have insight into overlooked needs of blind and sight-impaired children. We also work in full collaboration with like-minded NGOs and government authorities.
We enlisted accomplished professionals to help us provide support for families in the immediate aftermath of the baby’s or child’s diagnosis of sight impairment and blindness.
Our professionals and parent-volunteers provide time-sensitive help to guide parents in gaining access to expert medical care – and the psychological counseling they need to come to terms with their young child’s disability. The next step is a supportive community for families – and the cultivation of pedagogical, social and enrichment programs.
A CORNERSTONE of our initiatives includes advocacy with like-minded NGOs that serve children with varied special needs. It was 10 years ago when we took a lead role in persuading the Ministry of Education to make mainstream education accessible for children and youth with blindness and visual impairments.
Our Excellence on the Horizon program provides one-on-one tutoring by trained educators to help our children and youth keep pace with their peers.
Our Musical Dreams program provides subsidized voice and instrument lessons for children and youth. The lessons enhance their sensory capacities, and have also led many – including my daughter – to pursue successful careers as performing musicians and music educators.
Summer employment initiative
This summer, dozens of teens are participating in our summer employment initiative, a flagship Ofek Liyladenu program that we succeeded in maintaining despite the overwhelming challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our teens are working in financial institutions, retail chains, summer camps and NGOs across Israel.
This program has proven itself a springboard for our youth to volunteer in elite IDF units and National Service (Sherut Leumi), and then pursue higher education, vocational training and independent lives in the mainstream of Israeli society.
We were overwhelmed by the Herculean efforts invested by our staff, volunteers, children and parents in responding to the unprecedented and dynamic challenges posed by the pandemic. Our children and teens were disproportionately affected because of their strong dependency on their sense of touch, and the increased social isolation it posed, as well as the difficulties of coping with zoom education.
We opened hotlines, conducted individual and group support sessions, and adapted our programs to sustain them despite the health strictures. Our annual concert for our young musicians (deferred for two years due to the coronavirus) was reinstituted this summer.
25th anniversary of Ofek Liyladenu
The 25th anniversary of Ofek Liyladenu is a moment of tremendous pride. Our community is heartened by the achievements of motivated young men and women who are coming of age as capable and contributing members of Israeli society. It is also the time for us to renew our commitment to strive for an increasingly inclusive society.
We look forward to further outreach to Israel’s geographic and economic peripheries, to ensure that children in remote regions of the country have full access to the support and resources they need.
We will continue to empower and prepare our youth for full participation in the workforce and leadership in the community at large.
On a personal note, my daughter has not allowed her sight impairment to stand in the way of her career as a musician, and it has not deterred her from a path to personal fulfillment. I am grateful that my daughter’s life mirrors the achievements of so many young people who have been supported by Ofek Liyladenu.
Together with hundreds of active leaders in our organization, and our partners in Israel and across the world, we will continue to strive for full inclusion for all individuals with special needs.
The writer is the founder and board chair of Ofek Liyladenu, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. She was recognized with the President’s Award for Volunteers in 2008.