Difference Makers



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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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 (https://planningacrossthespectrum.com/autism-special-needs-events-calendar/), 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: 

https://planningacrossthespectrum.com/blog/disability-benefits-employment/ 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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