As part of AKIM Israel’s vision of inclusion, it established 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 as one of the most important contributions to the Israeli society and as 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 values of camaraderie, intuition, and leadership. For a person with intellectual disability serving in the IDF constitutes an important platform to integrate and feel included.
Equals In Uniform Program
The Equals in Uniform program enables intellectually disabled young adults to volunteer, serve and contribute to Israel’s safety and security. Every year, AKIM Israel recruits, trains, supports, escorts and empowers young adults age 21-27 with intellectual disabilities in an innovative two-year pre-military training and military service in the IDF. 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.
AKIM closely follows the placement of each soldier. The program’s coordinators are conducting regular meetings with soldiers with intellectual disabilities, with soldiers without disabilities who serve alongside our soldiers and with their commanding officers. Professionals are constantly monitoring the persons’ feelings towards their officers, peers and their own self-esteem. They also assist in resolving challenges and advise the commending staff on how to improve the work with our soldiers when difficulties emerge.
Apart from the obvious goal to increase the number of young adults with intellectual disabilities who enlist to the IDF, AKIM aims at changing the attitudes of the Israeli public towards people with intellectual disabilities. Researches show that inclusion is key in erasing prejudice against people with intellectual disabilities. Through including soldiers with intellectual disabilities in a unit mostly comprised of soldiers without disabilities the program creates, sometimes for the first time, close interaction between the two groups. This interaction dissolves sentiments of fear, misunderstanding and rejection. The soldier without disability now becomes an agent of change and, in a ripple effect, transports this to his social circle. The more we include soldiers with disabilities in the IDF the faster we can bring about social change toward people with intellectual disabilities.
AKIM vigorously believes that an inclusive society is a strong society. Enlisting people with intellectual disabilities to the IDF makes it stronger also morally and ethically.
Another goal is changing the attitudes of people with intellectual disabilities towards themselves. This program has a long lasting impact on the person’s life as he/she will become more confident of their abilities and feel belong. Participating in the program also assist them finding a job in the free market at a society where an IDF service is considered a requirement.
The program is made possible with the assistance of the Ministry of Labor, Social Services and Social Affairs and the Israeli Defense Force, the Jewish Federation of Broward County Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Federation of the Desert and the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.