June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Accessibility Accelerator Leaves No One Behind

Purple Vest Global training at the UN with (l-r) the Honorable Gilad Erdan (ambassador of Israel to the UN), Michal Rimon (CEO of Access Israel), Ben Avraham (AMOT), Jamie Lassner (Accessibility Accelerator) and Yuval Wagner (founder and president of Access Israel).

During times of emergency, people with disabilities are often forgotten. Accessibility Accelerator is working diligently with its affiliate partner, Access Israel, to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind.

Accessibility Accelerator, the global not-for-profit organization, strives to make the world accessible and inclusive, especially for people with disabilities and the elderly, via advocacy, education and inclusion. They continue to encourage and empower people to live self-determined lives, enabling them to work, travel and study with dignity, equality and independence.

As the war began in Ukraine in 2022, Accessibility Accelerator and Access Israel recognized the dire need to expeditiously focus on mobilizing people on the ground to ensure the necessary attention and solutions were in place for those most vulnerable—the elderly and those with disabilities. The requests for assistance began deep in the war zone, calling for support for the specific and unique needs of people with disabilities. Together, the two organizations immediately understood that people with disabilities and the elderly were vulnerable to being left behind because of the complexity of arranging accessible evacuation and the lack of available information on the subject. Time was of the essence given the complexity of what needed to be done to ensure the people’s safety.

Lassner escorts a young man with cognitive disabilities and his family out of a refugee center to resettle and build a new life.

In response, Accessibility Accelerator and Access Israel created the Purple Vest Mission, an initiative that promotes and teaches how to best be prepared and safely evacuate people with disabilities and the elderly in times of emergency. Purple was chosen as it is the color used to light up landmarks and buildings in the annual recognition of the International Day of Persons With Disabilities. Currently, people with disabilities constitute over 16% of the world population, and the elderly represent about 11%, both growing demographics. While disabilities are frequently visible, there are invisible disabilities that can affect individuals differently based on their physical, sensory or cognitive capabilities. Those diagnosed with disabilities not visible to society, such as PTSD, are prevalent and often overlooked in all ages, races  religions and ethnicities worldwide. Disability does not discriminate, yet people with disabilities are often the victims of discrimination, primarily because of the lack of knowledge and the insensitivity of others.

The Purple Vest Mission was a “boots on the ground” mission with teams at various refugee centers in Przemyśll, Poland, just a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, where they actively evacuated, triaged, settled and provided humanitarian aid to thousands of Ukrainian citizens, especially people with disabilities and their respective families. The two organizations are currently taking monumental steps to achieve their goals.

Access Israel, Accessibility Accelerator’s affiliate partner, was announced as one of the awardees of the 2023 Genesis Prize for the Purple Vest Mission recognizing their outstanding work supporting the Ukrainian people in the wake of the humanitarian crisis. Additionally, Access Israel and Accessibility’s collaborative Purple Vest Mission in Ukraine was recognized with a Zero Project Special Award at the February 2023 Zero Project Conference at the UN building in Vienna. Zero Project promotes a world with zero barriers, working to find and share solutions that improve the daily lives and legal rights of all persons with disabilities.

Jamie Lassner, managing director of Accessibility Accelerator, said, “Building upon the invaluable lessons learned from the Purple Vest Ukraine mission and responding to the increasing demand from numerous countries, we have successfully created Purple Vest Global and tailored an advanced infrastructure to assist in the evacuation, rescue and targeted assistance of people with disabilities and the elderly in emergencies worldwide. The mission is pre-preparation to preemptively save the lives of people with disabilities and the elderly when possible.”

Feast of the Senses hands-on experience at a local university.

Purple Vest Global is in the process of honing in on a group of technologies that will be used on an internet application to assist in pinpointing locations of people at any given time, including places such as a home, in a hotel, aboard a cruise, overseas or in a supermarket, among others. This technology includes developing a global website with a dual purpose: attracting volunteers for specialized certification courses and training and providing comprehensive training materials to ensure prompt and proper evacuation of people with disabilities. Training will be ongoing with refresher courses for an expanding number of volunteers throughout the year to ensure that people are up to date on protocols, technology and other aspects. Lassner said, “There is so much that must be done. Volunteers and sponsorship of this global program are needed to move forward and grow more immediately.”

In June of 2023, Accessibility Accelerator, under the leadership of Access Israel, presented a Purple Vest Global experiential program called “Accessibility in Times of Emergency” at the United Nations as part of the United Nations Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP). Members of the diplomatic corps joined this program, including several ambassadors from various nations, including the U.S., Israel, the Czech Republic, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and others.

Accessibility Accelerator continues to lead its popular series of awareness-raising programs, including the Feast of the Senses, to sensitize schools, houses of worship and communities to understand disability as a catalyst to inclusivity and equality. In addition, their Accessibility Accelerator: The Podcast features Lassner in conversation with global leaders who are making positive changes within the accessibility, disability and universal design world.

Accessibility Accelerator: The Podcast is available on Spotify, Apple and more.

At the forefront of the two organizations is their combined goal to grow and expand Purple Vest Global. Lassner said, “We are fortunate to have international presence, recognition and respect. Together, we continue to work hard to spread the vital task of leaving no one behind during times of emergency.”

Alexandra Nava-Baltimore is a global humanitarian and an award-winning, internationally published photographer and journalist. 

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