May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

One Person Can Impact the World: Superwoman Michal Rimon saves the lives of people with disabilities in times of emergency.

Michal Rimon spends some time mentoring Jamie Lassner of Accessibility Accelerator at a conference at the United Nations in Vienna.

“I put on my makeup knowing my mascara will run when I listen to the news,” said Michal Rimon, the CEO of Access Israel, who helps save and maintain lives while being a wife, mother of three and friend of many.

Superwoman Rimon shows how one person can impact the world as she successfully juggles improving and saving lives, advocating for people with disabilities and the elderly, and globally educating people about accessible inclusion while raising her family and mentoring her staff.

Access Israel is an award-winning global “non-profit organization based in Israel whose main mission is to promote accessibility and inclusion to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and the elderly,” explained Rimon. The organization does not focus on one type of disability but all instances that can affect people’s lives, including physical, cognitive, mental, invisible and visible differences. Working closely with its collaborative partner, Accessibility Accelerator (a U.S. 501(c)(3)), the organizations strive to make the world accessible and inclusive through advocacy, education and inclusion.

Forty-three minutes after the first alarm sounded in Israel on Black Saturday, Oct. 7, Access Israel’s Purple Vest Mission expeditiously began operating. The organization opened a call and emergency center for people with disabilities and the elderly to assist with evacuating them, getting them to safer ground and providing for their needs by building on its experience with emergency evacuations. It quickly began supporting and transporting people with disabilities and the elderly in Israel during attacks and airstrikes with accessible transport vehicles to accessible locations customized to each person’s situation. Since Oct. 7, Access Israel has trained and sensitized over 750 volunteers and continues to run training; these volunteers are the front lines of Purple Vest Mission efforts.

 

(l-r) Shirley Pinto, a former member of Knesset, and Michal Rimon (in purple vest) as they listen to the story of a survivor of the atrocities at Kibbutz Be’eri.

Purple Vest Mission’s efforts in Israel are different from past missions. In other countries, people were transported to refugee centers; in Israel, they are being brought to hotels in safer Israeli cities (i.e., one air raid siren per day versus multiple sirens per day). Unlike other humanitarian aid programs, the Purple Vest Mission volunteers work personally with everyone they help.

Rimon emotionally shared that the names of those they have assisted are not just entries in an Excel spreadsheet but rather beloved human beings with individual needs. For example, someone using a wheelchair has different needs than someone who is blind or autistic. After evacuations, Purple Vest Mission volunteers, usually in person, check on people with disabilities and the elderly several times each week, making sure they have their medical and day-to-day needs attended to in unfamiliar environments. As the war progresses in the south and north, many evacuees want to return home. Rimon is the one they call. She and her team work hand-in-hand with municipalities to ensure that everyone has an accessible safe room where they can quickly take cover if needed.

After a recent three-week visit to Israel, Jamie Lassner, executive director of Access Israel’s affiliate Accessibility Accelerator, emotionally shared, “I was humbled to have visited, assisted, talked with and hugged many of the people that our Purple Vest Mission had evacuated. I am continuously moved and proud of each of our altruistic and thoroughly devoted team members and am amazed at how Michal, who is always wearing her purple vest, does it in such an even-keeled and compassionate manner.”

The Purple Vest Mission was created to assist people with disabilities and the elderly. Purple was chosen as it is the global color for people with disabilities highlighted annually on Dec. 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, when landmarks around the world are lit up purple. At the onset of the war in Ukraine, when Rimon, Lassner and their team were boots on the ground in refugee centers in Przemyśl, Poland, just a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, they created the Purple Vest Mission to evacuate, triage, help resettle and provide humanitarian aid to thousands of Ukrainian people with disabilities, the elderly and their families.

First Lady of Israel Michal Herzog with Yuval Wagner (front) at a recent meeting of Purple Vest volunteers, including Michal Rimo,n in purple vest, and people they assisted at a hotel in Eilat. Purple Vest training at the U.N. with Gilad Erdan, ambassador of the state of Israel to the United Nations

Shelly Room, vice president of international affairs at Access Israel and one of the lead Purple Vest Mission instructors, remarked, “Michal leads with an extraordinary blend of commitment, dedication and a positive attitude. Her attitude fosters a deep sense of humanity and compassion. Under her leadership, inclusivity remains at the forefront of our mission, underscoring the critical importance of ensuring that no one is left behind.

“Working under Michal’s guidance is both inspiring and motivating,” Room added. “Her vision of a more accessible and inclusive world, combined with her determination to realize this vision, compels us to push boundaries and innovate continually.”

The Purple Vest Mission has been recognized globally, including being one of the 2023 Genesis Prize awardees and receiving the 2023 Zero Project Special Award at the United Nations Office. In 2023 and 2024 it was awarded four Anthem Awards.

Rimon grew up between Israel and the United States. She fondly recollected that some of her best and most influential years were spent in The Ramaz Upper School in New York City under the guidance of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a friend, teacher and mentor. Before joining Access Israel, she served in the IDF, worked at the Israel Consulate to the U.N. in New York, and as a lawyer until 2007. She left the practice to spend more time with her family and find a career where she could follow her true passion to educate and influence others. She always believed in the power of education and unintentionally spent her time devising unconventional ways to raise awareness around important topics to reach the most significant number of people.

True to her passion, 17 years ago Rimon began consulting on projects regarding people with disabilities for Access Israel, which then had seven employees. Two years later, she became the CEO. Her belief in education led her to learn how to run an NGO and train and educate people in unique ways. Rimon’s first projects included establishing training programs for schools, companies and businesses in the disability world. She developed a four-pillar program that empowered people with the basis being “Help me help you,” where she broke the teachings down into knowledge, experience, involvement of people with disabilities, and paying it forward. She believes that it is essential to involve people with disabilities.

“They will share with you their life story, their challenges, triumphs, falls, and when you are in the vulnerable state of the experience, you will be more receptive and understanding and can relate to what they are sharing,” she said. By creating memorable out-of-the-box, hands-on experiences and learning from someone with disabilities, an able-bodied person is challenged and thus can better understand.

Purple Vest training at the U.N. with Gilad Erdan, ambassador of the state of Israel to the United Nations.

Yuval Wagner, founder and president of Access Israel, proudly shared that “Michal’s leadership is based on five great qualities: hard work, passion, innovation, enthusiasm and leadership. This enables the Access Israel family to react fast with impacting programs and solutions for people with disabilities.”

Access Israel worked to bring forth monumental legislation for people with disabilities that paved the way for Israel to be one of the most accessible countries. Rimon said, “Israel is the only country in the world where by law, every service provider has to go through annual training on the accessibility of services and must go through an experiential sensitivity training method at least once.” The program has grown into the training and education department of Access Israel.

Shirly Pinto, a former member of the Knesset and current ambassador of hasbara for the Israel Foreign Ministry and a leader in disability rights, remarked after a meeting at the Knesset, “Access Israel and its alliance partner Accessibility Accelerator have gained much with Michal Rimon as its leader. Her determination and persistence in implementing the vision of the Purple Vest Mission is achieving much in saving lives. I am proud and fortunate to be a partner on many fronts in Michal’s journey together with the Access Israel/Accessibility Accelerator family.”

Michal Rimon with Benny Gantz, current war cabinet minister.

Access Israel also created the Global Accessibility Inclusion Leaders’ Summit (GAILS), a tight-knit international group of more than 50 of the best inclusion and accessibility leaders in the world who support one another, share ideas, and collaborate to continue to make not only their own countries accessible, but the world at large accessible.

As CEO, Rimon’s powerful role comes not only with tremendous success but also with monumental responsibilities and challenges. As a mother of three trying to teach by example the strength and capabilities everyone possesses, she balances her 24/7 humanitarian efforts with caring for herself and her family, even during the war. It is essential to Rimon that her predominantly female team takes the time to care for themselves and their families. Mental and emotional health is vital to her, and she strives to ensure that her team of over 110 employees takes care of their professional and personal responsibilities. More than half of Access Israel’s employees are people who live the life they want for all, as they too are people with disabilities.

Michal Rimon makes a presentation in Jerusalem to visitors from her alma mater, The Ramaz School in New York City.

Anat Ariel-Zakai, legal counsel at Access Israel said, “Michal is a born leader. There is a fire burning in her soul. She is unstoppable and it is impossible not to follow her lead. You know you can come to her for anything, especially when you need help with a project, idea or dream—she will help you make it happen.”

Rimon has proven her success at juggling multiple responsibilities regardless of challenging circumstances. She radiates strength and positivity as she begins each day with a fresh face of makeup and a smile springing from her conviction to help, influence others and make the world a better place.


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

Mara Lassner, an international marketing and media consultant, can be reached at creative@mara-ink.com.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles