Yuval Wagner

Access Israel
Year founded: 

Access Israel works to increase awareness and ensure accessibility to people with disabilities and their families.

Focus: Disabilities, Health, Technology, Education
Geographic Area of Impact: Israel
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 400,000 (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 950,000 (2009)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 50%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Israel

Over 600,000 people with disabilities, including physical, sensory (blind, visually impaired, deaf, hearing impaired), mental and psychological live in Israel. Approximately 150,000 of them have severe disabilities caused by war, terrorism, car and work accidents, diseases and old age. The current lack of accessibility in Israel causes great suffering to people with disabilities and to their families and prevents them from leading normal lives. Simple tasks, such as a visit to the doctor or meeting friends for a coffee, become impossible and humiliating due to lack of appropriate handicap parking zones, proper handrails and accessible toilets. People with disabilities are punished twice: once by their disability and then by an inaccessible environment. The need to promote accessibility in every aspect and field of life for disabled people in Israel is the motivation behind Access Israel and its activities.

Innovation and Activities
Access Israel is dedicated to making Israel an accessible place for all its citizens, especially those living with disabilities. To achieve its mission the organization works with government agencies and corporations to design and build facilities that take into account the specialized needs of the disabled. To achieve this goal Access Israel established the Forum for Accessibility Promoting Businesses in Israel, where members work to encourage their companies to make accessibility a basic feature in every aspect of their business.

Access Israel serves as an information centre, providing essential information for people with disabilities and their families. Its online database, Access Key, includes reliable and up-to-date information on accessibility to over 10,000 public and private places and facilities in Israel, as well as on public transportation. Each year more than 400,000 people access the database. Access Israel has also developed accessible picnic areas and observation posts in many of the country’s national parks for people with disabilities to enjoy nature with dignity, respect and a high level of independence.

To demonstrate to the public how simple it is to change its attitude towards the disabled, Access Israel has initiated several innovative projects to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of accessibility, and acceptance of people with disabilities as equals. Such projects include educational programmes for students, where children participate in "Accessible Stops", each aimed at exposing participants to a different disability, such as using a wheelchair to go up a ramp, scoring points with a basketball, using a guide stick while blindfolded, or having a guide dog help them complete an obstacle course. The Accessible Tastes initiative allows participants to experience what a disabled person goes through when they dine in a restaurant.

The Entrepreneur
Lieutenant-Colonel Yuval Wagner, an Israeli Air Force combat pilot, founded Access Israel in 1999. In 1987 he was injured in a helicopter crash, which left him a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair. As a person with disabilities and a father of three, Wagner realized that Israel was inaccessible to the disabled community, limiting their ability to lead independent and dignified lives. He decided to take action by establishing Access Israel with the help of friends and business colleagues. Despite limited resources, they have now become the leading accessibility promoter in the country.