I had always heard of Access Israel but was formally introduced to Access Israel, their founders and leaders through Jamie Lassner, longtime friend, co-founder and executive director of FAISR, Friends of Access Israel.  I have become a big fan of the organization which operates from a country the size of New Jersey but with an international reach and reputation as a convener, disseminator of knowledge, and champion of inclusion and accessibility. 

I have been honored to get to know the leadership team of Yuval Wagner (founder), Michal Rimon (CEO) and Rani Benjamini (Deputy General Manager). I even met these 3 Disability Difference Makers recently in Israel as we celebrate Israel being one of the first countries in the world to (slowly) reopen to tourism in a (soon to be) post-Covid era.  (Jamie Lassner of FAISR and I connected by phone from Israel!)  Tourism in Israel, reports Rimon, is always accessible and is following proper Covid precautions.   Rimon is very excited about tourism returning to Israel and can’t wait to again host its world-famous Access Israel Conference.

Each year, over 800 people with and without disabilities from 22 countries visit Israel to participate in Access Israel’s International Conference, where they learn about accessibility from technology to tourism; experience Israel’s accessible beaches; visit the now-accessible Old City of Jerusalem; and learn about Access Israel’s work in Israel and worldwide.  “We are the only Israeli organization that focuses on accessibility and inclusion– not only for people in wheelchairs, not only for people who are blind or who have hearing impairments— but for all kinds of disabilities and in all fields of life,” reports Wagner. 

Wagner is the reason Access Israel exists. Twenty years ago, Yuval Wagner, a recently paralyzed helicopter pilot, ignited a public awareness campaign and founded Access Israel. Having elicited (then) President Ezer Weizman’s attention, the President invited Wagner to celebrate this accomplishment together. Access Israel’s impact on access and inclusion of people with disabilities is now experienced worldwide.

I was lucky enough to attend the Access Israel Conference last year.  It is one of the BEST, most action-packed conferences I have ever attended.  It was an opportunity to hear from great speakers, learn from colleagues, tour accessible Israel, and participate in Access Israel’s well-known Dinner of the Senses.

During Covid, Access Israel continued to provide important content on accessibility online.  They have hosted 8 international mega-webinars which often last 6 hours.  They are attended by 700 people from 80 countries. They have thus far addressed such topics as “Accessible and Inclusive Smart Cities for All During and Post COVID-19,” “Accessible Remote Education” and more. Each webinar features experts in the field and is fully accessible. 

The Access Israel website is a gem for such resources as their Accessible Vacation Guide, and their Israel Accessible Technology Developments guide.

All of Access Israel’s resources and knowledge would easily qualify them as Disability Difference Makers. their visionary leadership and commitment to assuring that EVERYONE is included truly makes Yuval, Michal, Rani, Jamie, Access Israel and FAISR TRUE Disability Difference Makers! 

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Original Article Published On The JNS

Dr. John Frank plans to attend Ramah Sports Academy in Connecticut—helping in the medical field and maybe telling some stories that other field with the NFL.

Some nice Jewish boys become doctors. One nice Jewish boy became a doctor while also playing in the National Football League.

When campers at Ramah Sports Academy in Cheshire, Conn., visit the infirmary this summer, they will get more than Band-Aids, throat lozenges and TLC from Dr. John Frank. They may also hear stories from the nice Jewish boy who began his medical studies while playing tight end with Joe Montana on two NFL Super Bowl San Francisco 49ers teams from 1984 to 1989. Campers may also learn that Dr. Frank was a founder of the Israel bobsled team.

Adam Benson and Graham Parker of New York City were thrilled when they learned their football-loving son, who is attending Ramah Sports Academy for the first time, would cross paths with Frank. Adam reports, “Max lives for football, and we think it is awesome that Max will be cared for by a camp doctor who is also a former NFL player.”

Camp director Rabbi Dave Levy could not be happier with Frank joining his staff this summer. “I was speaking with a pediatrician from Columbus, Ohio, whose two sons go to camp, and he said, by the way, I have a friend who might be up for coming to camp.” Frank, who splits his time between his practice in New York and his home in Columbus, is a board-certified otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor), as well as a diplomate of the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery. He has treated more than 10,000 patients for hair loss and performed more than 2,500 hair transplants.

This summer, Frank, 59, will be attending camp along with his 12-year-old son, spending a week taking care of cuts and sprains, as well as oversee COVID-19 protocols. He will also coach flag football and share his wealth of stories about being a member of the NFL, sharing the importance of teamwork and his life as an observant Jew.

“I am excited to have him as a camp doctor and to use his football experience to create a positive experience for campers,” says Levy. “He will lead a multi-day flag-football experience and talk with the camp divisions about his NFL experiences, including what it was like being on a historic team in the 1980s and being Jewish in the NFL, and about whether it is worth the risk of playing football in its current form. I am excited to have the whole package; he is the embodiment of what our camp is about—Jewish life, sports and bringing those two things together!”

‘A strong legacy to uphold’

Frank grew up in Pittsburgh, attended Hebrew school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. He reports, “I was into and not into Hebrew school, but was very much into learning for the bar mitzvah.”

He refers to his father, Alan, as “a celebrated athlete and Pittsburgh Jewish sports legend,” saying he “was a fantastic basketball player in college at Carnegie Tech,” which later became Carnegie Mellon University, and “a strong legacy to uphold.”

When it came time for John to become involved with sports, his mother was lukewarm at best with his desire to play football. His parents and grandparents insisted on examining his peewee football equipment to ensure they provided adequate protection. “I think my mother was terrified by the whole experience,” he recalls.

At every stage of Frank’s sports career, he was aware of just how good an athlete his father was. He feels his father “had it” innately, while he was “only an average football player until my senior year of high school. It just seemed to click.”

Frank attended Ohio State University, majored in chemistry and published academic papers while still an undergraduate. He always planned on attending medical school, even while playing football for the prestigious Ohio State football team.

The starting tight end at Ohio State from 1981 to 83, as well as a two-time Academic All-American, he caught more passes than any other tight end in the school’s history; became the team’s most valuable player; and was selected as a member of the All-Century Ohio State Football Team and Ohio State’s Varsity Hall of Fame.

Then Frank was invited to attend “the Combine,” the NFL’s major recruiting event and tryout in 1984, but he declined so he could study for final exams. Much to his surprise, he was drafted in June 1984 in the second round of the NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers.

‘You know you are different’

In “NFL Films Presents,” Frank recounts the funny, somewhat embarrassing story of the telephone call from the 49ers coach. “Bill Walsh drafted me in the second round. I never anticipated playing in the NFL, so I didn’t know who he was. When I was in college, I wasn’t following the NFL—I was a chemistry major on the way to medical school. When the phone rang, he said it was the head coach to say congratulations. The only Coach Welsch I knew was the coach of Army at the time [George Welch]. I said, ‘Hi, Coach Welsh. He said, ‘No John, Coach Walsh. See you when you get out here.’

When Frank arrived at training camp, he was unfamiliar with the 49ers organization and didn’t know much about players on the team, though said he “had heard [quarterback] Joe Montana’s name since he was from Western Pennsylvania where I was from.”

He caught on to the organization and the team’s playbook quickly. His first catch in the NFL was for a touchdown at the Meadowlands in New Jersey during a Monday Night Football game.

Frank wasn’t the only Jewish player on the legendary 49ers team, which consisted of players from various religious backgrounds. “Harris Barton, the all-pro tackle, was the other Jew. We bonded. We had something special. We had fun on the team.”

While Frank says that he never experienced any difficulties being Jewish and notes that at the professional level, “it is a business,” and everyone is focused on the job, he observes: “When you are a Jewish athlete in the NFL, you know you are different.”

In fact, he recounts a touching story of Coach Walsh’s sensitivity. When Walsh read a story about anti-Semitic graffiti on a local San Francisco synagogue, he reached out to his player. “He pulled me aside, said he heard about the graffiti and said if you need to talk about the impact it is having, we are here. He was very sensitive,” remembers Frank.

During Frank’s first NFL season, he mostly worked as a reserve tight as the team went 18-1 and defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. He saw limited action due to an elbow injury. By his fourth season, he became the starting tight end. In his fifth and final season, he played in Super Bowl XXIII. He caught two passes, including one thrown by Montana during the winning touchdown drive. Following the game and to the surprise of many, Frank announced his retirement to devote himself full-time to medical school. During his five-year pro career, he caught 65 passes for a total of 662 yards.

Frank earned his M.D. from Ohio State in 1992 and completed his training in Chicago. He then established a plastic surgery clinic in San Francisco, specializing in cosmetic facial plastic surgery and hair transplantation. The NFL film, “Why John Frank, M.D., Choose Medicine Over a Career in the NFL” featured on Frank’s professional website shows his gentle touch and playful banter with a patient who consults with him for an ear problem. He notes that on occasion, patients learn his “back story” and ask about his NFL career.

As for his involvement with the Israel bobsled team, Frank recounts that years ago, he and a friend “were on a ski chairlift and were talking about the Jamaican bobsled team. We got the idea for an Israel bobsled team. It developed organically. It was really special.”

Frank, who also holds Israeli citizenship, notes that the bobsled team made it to the world championships in the early 2000s.

For now, he is getting prepared for and even excited about Ramah, just as campers look forward to returning after a year of too much time inside. “I am looking forward to being outdoors in the summertime, to be with my son, and to be around Jews and sports.”

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Phone: 855-AUTISM-2

I was introduced to Andrew through a very trusted colleague who said I “must” meet Andrew.  She was right, and I have chosen to be the first person I will profile in my new website feature, “Disability Difference Makers.”  I will be writing about people, programs and organizations I have been privileged to meet.

Andrew lives in Connecticut and is a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP™) Certified Neurodiversity Professional (CNP®). Something very special sets Andrew apart from other financial planners—he reports that he received his Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis as an adult and immediately knew that he wanted to do something to work with the special needs community to provide answers and security in the financial world.  Andrew is the Founder of Planning Across the Spectrum and specializes in helping any self-advocating client or family with autism and intellectual disabilities.   He proudly reports that he “provides a unique planning perspective for those with special needs, their caregivers, and their families” because he has “walked in their shoes.”

I admire Andrew’s technical know-how, his ability to come up with creative solutions to complex problems, and his generosity with his time and expertise.  He is also a mensch.  Andrews has hired a number of neurodiverse individuals for his team, and they continue to do amazing work creating what I consider to be the definitive calendar of daily disability events across the country (, and doing a lot of his firms videos and graphics work. Andre shares useful free resources including healthcare planning, money skills, ABLE accounts, transportation and driving and more.  One of my favorites is: where Andrew makes the case for why it is almost always better to work than to not—he knows that SO many families worry they will be jeopardizing benefits by working. 

Check out the amazing work of Andrew and his team!


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 Gardening and Farm Work at Kibbutz Shluchot

Kibbutz Shluchot
Emek HaMaayanot, 1091000 Israel (Coming Soon!)
Program Director: Menachem Stolpner
972 54 674 6223

“we have begun to grow in earnest both a variety of herbs in the green house and vegetables in our raised bed garden. We have successfully raised tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, broccoli & cauliflower amongst others- all for our own use. In the greenhouse, we have grown mother plants used for propagation, from seeds, cuttings and plantings and created a stock of herbs which include: mint, oregano, basil, thyme, lemon verbena & sage which we dry and package. Perhaps our most exciting growth items has been our long-term project of supplying organically grown ginger, turmeric and moringa for sale in the open market. These products were chosen for their important health qualities and limited availability locally. It is our hope that these “Cash Crops” will assist us on our path toward greater financial self-sufficiency. In addition, program participants do woodworking, repurposing discarded materials and creating them into tables, shelving and other furniture. Apprentices have previously secured work on the Kibbutz in the communal dining room, kitchen, mini-market, Kibbutz Zoo, Dairy and the turkey coops both on the kibbutz and on the outside. Future plans include expansion into areas of general maintenance, bicycle repair and services to the elderly.”

In the News:

Jewish Life Magazine (South Africa) Issue 131 August 2019

From the Program’s Materials:

Shai Asher (Milton’s Gift), is an apprenticeship program for adults with special needs where they learn trades and develop life skills within the supportive and inclusive environment of the greater kibbutz community. Menachem Stolpner, a former New York social worker, immigrated to the kibbutz in 1997, worked in the kibbutz dairy for 13 years, and founded the program in 2013.  Stolpner strongly believes that individuals with special needs deserve as much purpose, dignity and meaningful opportunities as anyone else.  The number of people served by the program has risen to more than 60 over the course of the past 8 years. Future plans include growing individualized herb plants for home use and selling them at local food markets; planting moringa plants outdoors to grow as trees to increase stock material; increasing turmeric production (to either process or sell fresh to the local Israeli organic market) and transporting workers on educational outings to nearby greenhouses and agricultural projects.

The Coronavirus pandemic posed many challenges to the program mainly through general governmental restrictions on movement and proximity. Shai Asher overcame many of these restrictions due to dispensations given to people classified as “special needs” and as workers in agriculture. This included: relaxing limitations on how far one could travel from one’s home (1km. for general public), limit on group congregation (10), restrictions on indoor activities (all our work takes place outdoors) and dispensations given to agricultural work (unfettered). Closure of the program lasted just 2 weeks during a time of more than a year. Results of our “freedom to work” were a stream of requests for placement in our program, resulting in a significant increase of the workforce. Improvement projects slowed significantly due to permit approval delays and the restrictions on travel.  Instead, we did the work by ourselves including construction cold frame, compost storage bins, compost sifter and a deck.

Additional Information about Shai Asher: Transitional Employment Solutions


To provide meaningful vocational/apprenticeship training, employment and career development for adults with intellectual, developmental, social or physical disabilities. The program focuses both on preparing individuals to enter/reenter the job market as well as providing enriching and meaningful work opportunities for those better suited to a sheltered environment.


The program bridges the gap between school (which ends at age 21) and employment in the open market by providing participants with the essential knowledge, skills and “hands on” experiences needed to succeed. Our goal is to increase career options, encourage greater independence and help reduce individual’s dependence on governmental financial support. The program seeks to address the greater than 70% unemployment rate in Israel for people living with a disability.

Challenges/Lessons Learned/Advice:


Experience has shown me that most issues surrounding independent innovative projects in Israel face financial challenges. Interest both from families with a special needs individual and established programs serving the population hold our work in high regard but this rarely translates into financial support as funds are mostly through established channels.

Our funding comes from private individuals or foundations who are open to funding new and innovative approaches. During the Covid period, I have found that people and foundations with resources were even more generous than usual. However, with the pandemic effecting every human being the level of priority for funding “special needs” dropped significantly in general.    

-lack of support of host institution

Here too, priorities and resources shifted toward areas other than special needs. In terms of my Kibbutz community, we were left to our own devices to “sink or swim”. I am happy to report that we ended the year thriving: tripling our work force, both professional and special, increased our budget significantly and completed a portion of planned renovations.

-transportation to program (especially during Covid)

(see paragraph 2  “from the program materials)

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