Daniel's story: The IDF's newest recruit with vision impairment

Daniel Defour, who went blind at the young age of 15, became one of the few vision impaired youth to be inducted into the IDF.

Special in Uniform recruit Omer, seen at the Palmahim Air Force base with his friend Gil Lahana. (photo credit: JNF)
Special in Uniform recruit Omer, seen at the Palmahim Air Force base with his friend Gil Lahana.
(photo credit: JNF)
Daniel Defour, who went blind at the young age of 15, enlisted on Thursday to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a volunteer following an appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fulfilling a dream he had since his youth, as highlighted by Special in Uniform, a revolutionary program for young Israeli adults with disabilities.
On Thursday, Defour was officially inducted into the IDF in what was once considered a tremendously difficult step, providing hope to other blind youth pursuing their military service as an important Israeli rite of passage.
Accordingly, there has thus far been little historical precedent for allowing vision impaired and blind youth to serve in the IDF, which is typically considered grounds for an exemption from military service in Israel.
Defour, a resident of Tel Aviv, was born prematurely 22 years ago and weighed barely a pound (0.45 KG) at birth, spending his first months of life in the Intensive Care Unit. He was later diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), also known as Terry syndrome, an eye disease that affect premature babies during neonatal intensive care and oxygen therapy to facilitate lung development. 
By age 13, a week after his bar mitzvah, the disease returned, forcing Defour to undergo seven eye surgeries in an attempt to salvage his vision. At age 15, Defour awoke one morning vision-less, leaving him completely blind.
“I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to scream from fear; I was sure my life was over,” said Daniel.
“I was devastated, and I wanted to bury myself,” he added.
Living up to the challenge of living with blindness, Defour enrolled in a program at the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind, learning essential skills of reading and coping with his other four senses.
“Many times I was tempted to throw the towel in, to give up, but then I’d remember that I couldn’t give up because I was placed in this world with a goal and purpose that is mine alone, and I was determined to achieve it.”
Growing up with an obsession for cars, Defour wrote a letter to Netanyahu at the age of 17 describing his passion for motor vehicles, and asking the latter for a five-minute ride with him in his armored limousine. To his surprise, Netanyahu personally read his letter, and sent him an invitation to visit the Knesset and go for a ride. The five-minute ride turned into a two-and-half hour long meeting between the two, in which Netanyahu asked the Defour about his hopes and dreams.
“Mr. Prime Minister,” replied Daniel passionately, “my greatest wish of all is to join the IDF and serve my country.”
That fateful meeting prompted the Prime Minister's Office to contact Special in Uniform to officially recommend Defour for the program.
Special in Uniform is a program designed for young Israelis with various mild physical and mental disabilities to complete their military service, while simultaneously offering training and skills that empowers them to fully integrate into Israeli society and the workforce after completing their service. The program also aims to break down societal barriers and encourage acceptance of social diversity among the Israeli populace.

Following completion of the program, graduating youths receive their military ID and are placed on bases across the country to perform important jobs while building their self-confidence by taking part in the Israeli rite of passage of IDF service. 
Since the program was implemented, hundreds of Israeli youth have participated and successfully integrated into the IDF framework and service. In recent years, the program has expanded to over 500 participants, later serving on 35 military bases across Israel.
Heads of the program expect to expand  enrollment to 1,000 participants by 2023. Defour, who completed the program, is now a full-fledged and integrated soldier in the IDF, despite his disability.
“I’m very happy to serve my country,” Defour expresses emotionally, “and I know that I will serve it well. I am so grateful to the IDF and Special in Uniform for opening up the door to me into the vocational world, into the adult world.”
In a message of hope to other disabled youth wishing to serve their country, Defour said that “I want to say to every kid in Israel who doesn’t believe in himself that you can change the IDF. You can change the world! Don’t say, ‘I can’t,’ don’t say, ‘I won’t,’ because that will only lead you far, far away from your dreams. Instead, say ‘I will!’ Strive to overcome your obstacles, because you can do it, and then you surely will!”