In June 2023, 28 agencies from across Canada and Israel joined together to share information, innovation, and foster relationships to support individuals with disabilities. Participants travelled to Israel to openly share best practices, successes and system gaps, and challenged each other to think beyond the realities of today. The diversity and areas of focus provided an opportunity for rich discussions with representation from service providers, universities, philanthropic organizations, legal experts, caregiver associations, hospitals, advocacy groups and individuals with lived experience.

We live in a society where there is an underrepresentation of individuals with disabilities at the table where decisions are made. The notion of creating an inclusive society for all is an aspirational one but one that we should strive for. The mission to Israel achieved many successes and the ability to bring together people who choose to dedicate themselves to elevating the conversations and thinking about advancing housing, programs, legislation, advocacy with self-advocates was uplifting and spurred conversations for improvements on multiple levels.

At a high-level, Israel offers many learning opportunities in advancing inclusion and the commitment within and across agencies and government is evident. The notion of innovative change versus adherence to inflexible, complex processes to enhance early access to care was an area that continued to enter my thinking through the course of the visits with organizations.

Israel is a young country and considered a startup nation and they have been able to achieve tremendous growth in a short period with their innovation and disruption. Given the conflict in the area and inflicted wounds from war along with naturally occurring issues and genetic disorders, the country has dedicated significant resources to advancing services with programming as well as commitment to societal changes to support vulnerable individuals. The phrase “perfection is the enemy of innovation” came top of mind to me as I spoke to leaders from several of these Israeli organizations. It struck me that they have figured this out while the Canadian approach has been more risk adverse. I am not advocating for removal of standards or processes to access care and treatments, I am suggesting that younger countries offer different perspectives on how treatments and approaches can be delivered earlier as they are not restricted by pathways and processes that increase waits.

For me, the mission highlighted the similarities and differences our countries face in advancing support and legislation for individuals with disabilities. Challenges with housing, level of services and programming, securing employment and the need for legislative changes for individuals with disabilities were evident across both countries. Where the mission was beneficial was sharing the learning, success and innovations that could be implemented in either country with the right focus. As an example, Israel has introduced legislation where care providers have protected hours annually to support loved ones as they progress through treatments. This type of legislation is valuable as caregivers can continue to work without the fear of losing their job when they take time off work. This type of legislation would be welcomed for many Canadian families.

In relation to providing housing for individuals with disabilities in Canada, the focus in major Canadian cities is starting to give some promise at a conceptual and implementation level for vulnerable individuals. The advocacy work led by the Intentional Community Consortium (ICC) has elevated the efforts to secure dedicated housing in the National Housing Strategy to 5%. As well, the notion of intentional communities is redefining supportive housing and care that is a stark contrast to institutional care and an area that Israel can learn from Canada’s success. Recognizing that housing is a crisis issue for individuals with disabilities – our conversations and initials efforts while not solving this hugh issue is a start. As a care provider in Ontario that focuses on individuals with medical complexities in the community setting, our approach to inclusivity is stretching the boundaries of what can be done safely in the community. This was an eye opener for our Israeli partners.

Overall, the Canadian-Israel mission was inspiring. l walked away with a stronger sense of purpose that strengthened my commitment to continue the work that is needed to create more inclusive societies for the most vulnerable individuals in our communities. Additionally, the mission provided an opportunity to reflect on our individual roles in advancing care, programming and legislation beyond our current agencies and we all recognize the need for advocacy at provincial and national levels.

The dialogue and time together over site visits and evening meals enabled us to share our mutual visions about a better, more inclusive world where we all can contribute and create societies with people of differing abilities live harmoniously – growing together, innovating together and being connected as part of a community.  As the saying goes “we are stronger together – united in purpose”.