AlManarah's diverse programs and projects are associated with three operational components: the social and legal units, and the library initiative. The programs within each unit are listed below, and the following sections provide more information about each program and its related objectives.
1. Social Unit
Promoting Social Awareness
This has been AlManarah’s flagship program for much of the last ten years. Over the course of 2014, AlManarah staff and volunteers delivered over 100 workshops to over 2,300 people, engaging as wide a range of groups as possible within the Arab society in Israel. Approximately half of the workshop participants are students—from elementary school through graduate school and everything in between—and the remaining half include audiences such as social service and education professionals, the National Congress of Imams, persons with disabilities and their families, media professionals, and business leaders, not to mention all of the bus drivers from the two leading public transportation companies based in Nazareth.
Each workshop is typically delivered by two youth activists—one disabled and one non-disabled—who have undergone extensive training by AlManarah. The workshop program seeks to transform the community’s attitudes toward persons with disabilities, helping them develop respect for and understanding of the challenges they face on a daily basis, their ambitions and aspirations, and their right to inclusion in all domains of social life. Role-playing exercises in which the workshop participants wear blindfolds, navigate in wheelchairs, etc., encourage a sense of empathy and provide insight into the art of relating to persons with disabilities.
In addition to the workshop series, AlManarah has embraced innovative forms of raising public awareness of disability rights. One of the most unique and successful initiatives was the production of the social drama “A Needle and a Fine Thread” in early 2014, a play written and acted by persons with disabilities who used theater as a platform to raise awareness of disability rights for a large swathe of Nazarene society.
What’s Next: While AlManarah works primarily within the Arab society within Israel, it is committed to using disability advocacy as a tool for building bridges between the Arab and Jewish communities. In a region that is increasingly divided across the fault lines of identity politics, Arabs and Jews can unequivocally stand together on the issue of disability rights. To this end, AlManarah is currently developing a program with the Community Center of Afula (the Jewish city just 10 km south of Nazareth) that will bring together Arab and Jewish youth with disabilities, empowering them to combat prejudice and discrimination of all kinds.
Center for Independent Living
Centers for Independent Living (CIL) worldwide are institutions run by persons with disabilities that provide peer support and role modelling for other disabled persons. In Israel, these Centers typically offer a forum for community gathering and peer support, assistance with navigating the National Insurance system, guidance to help people understand and to assert their rights, and vocational courses. There are currently formally designated CILs in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheba and the Arab city of Sakhnin, and AlManarah is on the path toward achieving official designation as a CIL from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services.
AlManarah's CIL program includes four distinct projects:
1. Computer and Language Courses. Throughout the academic year, AlManarah runs Hebrew and English language courses, training in computer skills and assistive technology, and the only preparatory course for the Psychometric college entrance exam that is both taught in Arabic and accessible to the visually-disabled.
2. Career Coaching and Business Skills. Recognizing that women with disabilities are uniquely marginalized on the basis of their gender as well, this project provides them with all the tools they need to gain employment in the job market and to achieve economic independence.
3. Student House. This is a weekly afterschool program for approximately 20 primary and secondary students with visual disabilities who participate in activities such as art projects, drama therapy, and educational cooking.
4. Strings of the Soul. This is the most recent addition to the program, in which aspiring young musicians with disabilities learn to play their instruments and compose songs together in the AlManarah Ensemble. The group activities are supplemented with one-on-one sessions that combine musical instruction with therapeutic dialogue.
The four projects within the CIL complement one another to enhance the educational and vocational skills—not to mention the confidence and motivation—of hundreds of Arabs with disabilities in Nazareth and throughout the Galilee and Triangle regions. Overall, approximately 80% of participants successfully complete their courses, and the majority of graduates go on to realize their right to higher education and/or employment. Moreover, in every cohort there are charismatic individuals who step forward to become disability rights activists, and these people exponentially expand the scope of AlManarah’s impact when they return to their own villages and communities and in turn inspire and mentor the next round of activists.
2. Legal Unit
AlManarah operates the only hotline in Israel for speakers of Arabic to gain information about the rights and laws pertaining to disability. Operated by AlManarah’s lawyers for 40 hours per week, this line receives over 600 calls annually. Many additional calls are social rather than legal in nature, in which case the caller is transferred to AlManarah’s Social Department for advice or emotional support over the phone or in person.
The Legal Department most commonly assists callers with questions about their benefits and entitlements through the National Insurance Institute; other calls deal with the right to employment and freedom from discrimination, the right to accessibility of public places and transportation, and the right to education. Approximately 15% of cases cannot be resolved with a single consultation, and the Legal Department then follows up with letters, phone calls, and negotiations with the party that is violating the rights of the client. Up to three calls per month turn into extended legal action.
AlManarah works to ensure accessibility and compliance with human rights laws and conventions through strategic legal advocacy and litigation on behalf of Arab persons with disabilities. Typically through the legal hotline and sometimes through personal referrals, Arab persons with disabilities or their families approach AlManarah with complaints of discrimination or unequal treatment. The Legal Department at AlManarah successfully resolves nearly every case that it receives: some require no more than phone calls and letters to the responsible authorities, while others require legal action and may extend to a year or more.
Of special interest are cases with the potential to affect the community at large and that of persons with disabilities in particular by requiring amendments or clarifications to existing laws or by necessitating a change in approach or policy at the municipal and/or national levels. These cases relate to access to public transportation, public venues, standardized tests, and also accessibility of rights information. In addition, AlManarah undertakes cases of interest to the general community of persons with disabilities. Such cases involve accessibility to schools, to buildings in the public domain, to buses, and the alterations required to make them accessible according to the law, and relate to the general community of persons with disability.
Local and Parliamentary Lobbying
AlManarah conducts lobbying at the local level among the Arab municipalities throughout the Galilee and Triangle regions, and at the national level through strategic meetings with officials from different ministries and both Jewish and Arab Knesset Members. The lobbying aims to recruit lawmakers’ support, influence policy change, and hasten the enforcement of the legal requirements mandated by Israeli disability law in addition to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Additionally, AlManarah’s founder and director Adv. Abbass Abbass, serves as the only Arab member on the advisory committee for the Ministry of Justice’s Commission for Equal Rights for People with Disabilities; in that capacity, AlManarah brings the voice of a hitherto marginalized population to the highest levels of decision-making.
AlManarah regularly during the year performs advocacy on the international level aimed at the United Nations and its various bodies, most notably the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as other international organizations concerned with human rights. The purpose of these efforts is to make the international community aware of the situation and status of Arab persons with disabilities in Israel, following the ratification by Israel in 2012 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and to garner support for AlManarah’s efforts to improve the status of these persons.
As part of this effort, AlManarah has produced numerous position papers—the latest, from November 2013, is entitled “The Doubly Discriminated: Disability Rights for Arab Persons in Israel”—as well as other documentation and information for distribution at meetings with representatives of international organizations and UN bodies. AlManarah most recently visited Geneva for advocacy meetings in the UN in June 2014. An electronic version of the position paper can be found on AlManarah’s website.
3. Library Initiative
International Library for the Print-Disabled
One of AlManarah’s crowning achievements is the International Library for the Print-Disabled, which provides free access to over 2,000 audiobooks and recordings for persons with disabilities that make it difficult to read the printed word. This library is unique of its kind, and it serves not only the Arab citizens of Israel but also has the potential to reach the millions of Arabic-speakers worldwide who have some form of reading disability. Launched in 2010, the library grows daily due to the efforts of a dedicated team of readers and producers, taking full advantage of the professional recording studio in the AlManarah offices.
The library is absolutely free (and legally so) for persons with disabilities, who can access the archive of audiobooks on its website www.arabcast.org and on the ArabCast application for iPhone and Android. This program is driven by AlManarah’s conviction that accessibility of knowledge is no less essential than accessibility of the physical environment; indeed, for many of the Library’s subscribers, it constitutes one of their only reliable sources of knowledge and literary enrichment.
Assistive Technology Center
In October 2008, AlManarah opened its Assistive Technology Center for Arab persons with visual disabilities. The Assistive Technology Center features an accessible computer room with ten computers adapted with screen readers and electronic large text for Arab persons with visual disabilities, and two professional Braille printers for the production of text in Arabic Braille. An open and accessible facility, the Assistive Technology Center is available week-round for the benefit of persons with visual disabilities in the local community. As the financial barrier can be prohibitive for those who wish to purchase assistive technology, many people visit the Center because it is the only place they can browse the internet or read printed texts in an accessible fashion.
Additionally, the Multi-Use Center houses most of the courses and activities described above under the title “Center for Independent Living”: life-skills and career training, educational seminars, and group empowerment activities. Likewise, the space serves as a safe and comfortable forum for disabled and non-disabled members of the AlManarah community to gather for discussion groups and social activities, such as movie nights, break-fast on Ramadan, and monthly round-table discussions about diverse topics relating to disability.