AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Yuval Wagner & Michal Rimon from Access Israel

June 22, 2021 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Yuval Wagner & Michal Rimon from Access Israel
Show Notes Transcript

 Access Israel, established in Israel in 1999, is the first non-profit organization in Israel whose main mission is to promote accessibility and inclusion to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and the elderly

Access Israel strives to make Israel a place where people with various disabilities are integrated into society with dignity, respect, equal rights and maximum independence.
 
Since its establishment, Access Israel has revolutionized the quality of life and accessibility for hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and elderly in Israel, and has become a leading organization worldwide and a model for making businesses, governmental, academic, and non-profit organizations fully accessible.

These achievements result from a wide range of innovative projects, ongoing awareness activities, and improvement of business models aimed at making Israel an accessible place.

Access Israel makes it an issue to act in all sectors of life, in all geographical areas in Israel with an emphasis on the periphery to make Israel more accessible and inclusive for 100% of its population (and possible guests from abroad).

Over the years, the organization has succeeded in promoting the topic of accessibility and giving a voice to the disabled population. Promoting legislation, raising awareness, unique accessibility consulting methods, web portal, complaint center, accessibility training, accessibility in education, accessible culture, tourism, and more.

We are now aiming to enable the future digital era, making sure it's accessible and usable on day one for people with disabilities and the elderly.

Access Israel also aims to share its experience and knowledge regarding accessibility so that countries from all over the world can learn and implement.

Accessibility and integration of people with disabilities in Israel have come a long way since Access Israel was founded, but there is still much to do. 

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Neil Milliken: hello, and welcome to axschat. We are delighted and not before time that we welcome Yuval Wagner walkman and Michal Rimon from access Israel.

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Neil Milliken: You guys a legendary we love the work that access is run this thing is really revolutionary and and generally the Israeli accessibility in tech scene is super super interesting.

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Neil Milliken: So really glad to have you here we've been talking infrequently over the last couple years but i've been tracking what you've been doing so.

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Neil Milliken: Please tell us about this tell our audience about the amazing stuff you're doing even if you'd like to start, because you're you're the founder and, of course, have the backstory here.

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Yuval Wagner: Well, the very short, all the story we're not going to have enough time.

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Yuval Wagner: hmm but shortly, I was sorry father, with his ability, I myself have wondered when I was serving in the pilot a crash lucky stayed alive in like a quadriplegic.

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Yuval Wagner: neck down in in Paradise confined to a wheelchair, by the way, i'm bald relish pains, while the space and way yellow Paul and and my experience experiencing life.

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Yuval Wagner: In an totally and accessible country, and you have to listen, nothing, nothing, nothing in excess of no no sidewalks no no store or restaurant or cinemas, no.

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Yuval Wagner: not excessively or even when we're talking about the urbanek environment we're not talking about you know technology that we're not talking about services.

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Yuval Wagner: That felt like on top of dealing with my injury and top of dealings psychology with my being a person with disability, on top of giving how I am with the public, I felt that the added bonus, which is a house arrest.

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Yuval Wagner: And that led me one day to take an action which was very simple one to write a letter to the President of Israel listen, Mr President.

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Yuval Wagner: We have a problem here is that is not accessible and I urge you and call you to make it accessible and two days later, though it was 21 years ago and I wanted in a regular letter and I didn't email and two days later, I get a personal telephone from the Israeli President.

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Yuval Wagner: and his say asking me about my flight accent, because it was a pilot to and then he asked me what the word when I don't know what I never heard about the word accessibility, so those days, the term disability was not used at all for that known.

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Yuval Wagner: And then he said to me a one sentence that do still in act he became our mission target of like this isn't safe state until today, you fall.

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Yuval Wagner: I want you to make Israel accessible for all disabilities.

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Yuval Wagner: And in all areas of life.

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Yuval Wagner: And we're going to lunch access is, though.

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Yuval Wagner: In six months in the President else.

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Yuval Wagner: and have called.

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Yuval Wagner: In seems that we establish accuracy, though, and we're working very hard on the same mission, make it easily accessible for all disabilities in all areas of life and, as you guys knows and probably all the listeners know accessibility is if all the time, changing.

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Yuval Wagner: So work will never end, but we are trying to do our best to make either accessible by the order and the mission that is.

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Yuval Wagner: defined by our is early President is a vitamin.

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Debra Ruh: That is an amazing story that is an amazing story shows what one person can do so congratulations.

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Yuval Wagner: You will do for his cave magically to be there because Marty and louie know known to give those those orders.

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Michal Rimon: But I will close the story and say that last year before coven a year and a half ago, we celebrated 20 years for access Israel and we had a ceremony at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, with the President.

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Michal Rimon: Who believed in lovin rivlin and in a way it's it's it's amazing to see the progress that Israel has gone through since access Israel.

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Michal Rimon: stepped in and and it's something that we presented to the President, and it was a closure, not to close things because we still have a lot of work coming but definitely to to hold on a second look back and say okay we're on the right track.

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Debra Ruh: How did you get involved i'm sorry did meal I.

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Neil Milliken: Go yeah.

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Michal Rimon: 14 years ago I was a lawyer, I used to be the spokesperson for the Israeli mission to the UN, I was in high tech, and I wanted to do something good and I came to access Israel met with you Val and the truth is, I came only for two years, you know just to understand what.

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Michal Rimon: What an NGO is all about, and then go and create my own baby and luckily.

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Michal Rimon: We are very much alike and very much very different, at the same time and and basically while gave me the opportunity volume honey gave me the opportunity to take access Israel in a direction.

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Michal Rimon: That I wanted, so it became a mutual baby, not just a vision of the ball had 21 years ago and we got into.

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Michal Rimon: Really, education and training, which is something that I am a true believer in.

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Michal Rimon: And i'm i've been an access Israel 14 years and the amazing thing and i'm sure that people who are listening in and are in the business of accessibility can relate to what i'm going to say I think it's a great honor and privilege.

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Michal Rimon: To deal with this subject because it's a subject that you come you go out in the morning look out and you see the change happening in front of your eyes, one day, is more accessible than the previous one, and it's a great privilege to do that, I would.

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Yuval Wagner: Add to that wasn't and the concert you want, you know, to lay down what you want, for the work you know finishing at four o'clock so what happened is you working, seven days a week 24 hours a day.

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Yuval Wagner: And we still have a lot.

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Yuval Wagner: To do so, she's super power super CEO and we are very fortunate lucky to have because leading us.

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Neil Milliken: So.

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Neil Milliken: it's funny how we all have similar stories in this respect guys I started with three weeks work for a small company, you know just doing a little bit of work on the side and.

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Neil Milliken: For a little company in Cambridge doing speech recognition systems, I stayed definitely 10 years.

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Neil Milliken: And i've been playing with assistive tech for over 20 now and and you're right it's not a it's not a nine to five or an eight to four job it's it's a it's a vocation and we all live and breathe it and.

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Neil Milliken: yeah yeah it's it is, I think you know and i've had this conversation three or four times today, and you know i've had the privilege of speaking with you know some of our mutual circle so Stefan from the fellow people from.

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Neil Milliken: European Commission and we're all saying it's it feels like things are moving.

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Neil Milliken: Like really moving right now, and even within my own organization well you know we've made progress over the 10 years that i've been there.

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Neil Milliken: that's much more rapid now you know there's.

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Neil Milliken: Lots more people are engaged, you are looking at stuff and it's it's not moving you know I used to talk about accessibility being like plate tectonics right in that.

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Neil Milliken: Essentially you're building up all this pressure, it feels like nothing's happening, but underneath there's all this pressure and suddenly you have an earthquake.

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Neil Milliken: And then something happens and then you have a few aftershocks and then it goes back to stillness and nothing, as he brought up the project.

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Neil Milliken: Well now, it feels more like there's a constant cadence of improvements, and I think that they really, really encouraging and and and we're building that ecosystem, which is why I loving.

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Neil Milliken: talking to you today and and finding out more about what's going on in Israel, because you've gone, you know you've really put that on warp speed.

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Neil Milliken: Because you've gone from from nothing as you've all said to something that is you know you're really you know, leading in terms of tech and you're engaging around the world, so so, how does the sort of Israeli culture of tech.

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Neil Milliken: impact on on sort of disability accessibility innovation.

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Yuval Wagner: Well it's I think the term today that is very you know everybody's talking about his innovations innovation in your organization your way innovation, where Where are you working what you're doing, and you know, to defend yourself, every day, and I think, for me the beginning, where we like.

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Yuval Wagner: We said we'd like a commander team, we were in the beginning, really small, but we did a lot very fast very good, so it was all the times is energy.

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Yuval Wagner: Of like a startup it's like a really a lot of motivation, a lot of drive doing things engaging every every challenge you know you know if people say why do you do so much work, because we can say no, and.

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Yuval Wagner: We can say no, you know we are going to say no, if someone says listen them a new problem that we have to deal.

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Yuval Wagner: With to be the we have our maintain now we're not going to do that now we do also so it's it's really you have to be you have to be a little crazy to.

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Yuval Wagner: And you know it's i'm curious we have consultancy with those you know strategic teams that consult to us what to do, the next few years and they go, you know they.

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Yuval Wagner: They don't believe what they see they always say no narrow down do much less do do only the things you know they went to three things to you.

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Yuval Wagner: On your top priority, no, we can't do it it's in our DNA to make you know not to leave any anything back and it's it's really a little crazy it's it's no.

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Yuval Wagner: No model like that, but we tried saying that we had to do things in a professional way, so the The first lesson that we learned is called.

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Yuval Wagner: Awareness first or to understand the power of awareness is, if you have a great idea, and you know we all have the same ideas of promoting and implementing accessibility and developing civility, but if we are not able.

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Yuval Wagner: To make awareness so people will understand the importance of the case, then I can engage and I going to be help us they're not going to implement it.

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Yuval Wagner: So I remember our first a projects big value the men and giant change any of them before we even have any regulation any loan until today it's developing and now we're talking about expertise all over the globe, which is a model, how to make a business accessible.

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Yuval Wagner: And you know we said how will we don't we went when we don't have any knows how do you convince.

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Yuval Wagner: A chairman of a big bank chain or big supermarket chain, or any other big a company, how do you convince them to make their organization or the business fully accessible.

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Yuval Wagner: We had the knowledge of everything about what to do in the stores and how to train the service givers and how to make the website accessible.

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Yuval Wagner: And how to make the call Center accessible and how to make the in a information accessible and events accessible.

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Yuval Wagner: We knew how to make things accessibility, accessible, but how do you convince the CEO to put money to put money and implementing the our demands of accessibility, so we knew two things one, we have to understand the business case.

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Yuval Wagner: And, and this and telling them, you know the agent percent they were disabilities, we all know, the business case but we told him also the true.

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Yuval Wagner: he's not going to see 18% growth of because he's doing, because the ev 18% level smaller group that our accessibility for them is called critical.

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Yuval Wagner: So we told them the true business case but also we said it would be great for your business social responsibility or social image, so we invented these.

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Yuval Wagner: badge accessibility badge so until today a business that makes all its organization accessible all its D to see activities and services accessible today, we also inside, we do also pursuing man and a legal department at all, we make totally really a.

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Yuval Wagner: realization accessible.

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Yuval Wagner: At the end of the day he gets its its badge and then we get what we call the win, win, win situation.

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Yuval Wagner: The business get its own when the people disability clients get there when an artist either get this one, so to close this we started with awareness, then we have a model that brings the result, by the way very quickly very efficiently, because we met we simplified everything.

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Yuval Wagner: And thirdly, we got the you know the advertising to close it and to make it relevant to for today, when we joined the.

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Yuval Wagner: band valuable five other of our great very big Caroline where we were asked to being Israeli companies, it was not just a big companies that are stating that they want to do so, they already got it.

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Yuval Wagner: Okay, so our, so we are very unique stage that when we have started the loans and regulations we already had companies.

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Yuval Wagner: leading companies, the done it already.

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Michal Rimon: I will add to that you value, with your permission, that I think that the key the key for success was.

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Michal Rimon: Not coming from a position of begging, I think that, until access Israel started operating in Israel.

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Michal Rimon: The situation, the reality was that you know organizations of people with disabilities came and asked.

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Michal Rimon: To be recognized asked for, for in a way, it could come and be understood as begging and we came and said guys weren't you're not doing us a favor This is something that is good for all and now let's see if you want to join the.

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Michal Rimon: revolution, and I think that changing the DNA, and this is what the model is doing, changing the DNA of the organization is what makes sure it's not just checking the box, but it's making a long term change.

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Debra Ruh: And I will also say that I saw mchale and in New York City at the UN, and so I represent, of course, the United States, the big gigantic United States, and I said mchale.

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Debra Ruh: This is a race and i'm going to try to beat you you can't bring more company well she beat me so bad, because I believe access Israel bought brought more corporations to the valuable 500 than any other partner.

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Michal Rimon: And so I think Austin Japan brought 100 so.

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Debra Ruh: right which is and you eat.

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Debra Ruh: it's great so I want to turn it up, but congratulations on that that was amazing, and let me turn it over to Antonio comment.

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Antonio Santos: No follow following on your last comment.

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Antonio Santos: i'm know we have to observe that in the United States that often a culture of.

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Antonio Santos: litigation and enforce enforcement incident in in Europe in countries like Norway, we have a culture of education in terms of business and society can you clarify to our audience, what is the scenario in Israel.

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Yuval Wagner: Definitely actually it in the beginning, I changed my mind, because when we started I said we don't need any low we don't have any regulations let's just take a model and let it spread a by itself, but a.

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Yuval Wagner: Anyway, music, they started another organization have made the.

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Yuval Wagner: Israeli accessibility, equal rights accessibility knows that before actually the same time that we were founded so, then they were we were asked why don't you legislative submit your nose in Islam.

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Yuval Wagner: And so we've done that, and we found a very great strengths of the lows and over here, I would say the way to where I can use them, we have the low, we have a.

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Yuval Wagner: Regulations and web standards it's pretty much like a other systems around the world, but what's unique about accessibility knows it is that it's not about only.

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Yuval Wagner: Public services or government services is about everything government when you see polities businesses and NGOs, everyone has to.

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Yuval Wagner: be accessible, they have some exempts if you don't have money, or is there other barriers so it's very it's very fair it's not you know it's not drastic On one hand.

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Yuval Wagner: If you are prominent, yet they have some procedures, how to you know be exempted some of the things but what's another interesting stuff is that you can buy low.

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Yuval Wagner: So make a lawsuit against any entity that is not complying with the law, so this became a very strong tool, you know you have to do what you have to do.

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Yuval Wagner: Another interesting very unique a thing is every organization with one with more than 25 employees must have one mastery point an employee that will be that disability direct them.

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Yuval Wagner: Both inside promote the accessibility inside but also, of course, the the point of contact with the customers another thing.

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Yuval Wagner: On websites in Israel and applications and automatic machines, have to be accessible day one.

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Yuval Wagner: Another a very, very unique thing is an I will let me culture, because that's a baby and she bought it to the world is a training a training employees, how to give accessible service but in an experiential in experiential way because elaborate.

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On this year now.

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Michal Rimon: I think I think the tier is really something very unique in Israel, we are the only country in the world, to our knowledge that by law every service provider.

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Michal Rimon: has to go through training annually on accessible service every I think in Ireland when I was there, I was told that the public servants have to do that.

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Michal Rimon: But here in Israel it's everyone you go to a coffee shop, they have to you know that the waiter has to go through training, etc.

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Michal Rimon: So it's every service provider every year, and at least once to go through experiential, and this is something that we have been doing before the legislation kicked in.

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Michal Rimon: And I was very proud that the legislation basically adopted it, what you know the model of you know don't just talk the talk walk the walk.

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Michal Rimon: And we we actually this is really something that we are very proud of our four pillars, the access Israel four pillars, which are the base of the training.

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Michal Rimon: We we combine the knowledge, the experiences, you know crazy innovative ways of taking something that is not sexy and making people stand in line and want to do it.

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Michal Rimon: Bringing opportunities for direct contact between people.

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Michal Rimon: with disabilities and without disabilities, so you can see, the person behind the disability and wrapping this up with tools, on how to make a difference, how to change it, whether you're a CEO of a bank or first grader in.

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Michal Rimon: going to school, for the first time, so this training model is a unique aspect of Israeli law.

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Yuval Wagner: Another last thing that I want to do very special and very important for people with disabilities see that also every organization must have a must to advertise.

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Yuval Wagner: All is accessibility services that are provided.

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Yuval Wagner: In the website and mean their call centers so me as a person with disability when let's say I want to go to no tell.

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Yuval Wagner: That I never been there and it's so important for me to understand in advance the accessibility for me, or if neither wants to come and wants to know how it's accessible for vision disabilities.

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Yuval Wagner: The information should be observed in Hebrew and English and if it's not well, you can you can sell it so it's a thing at the end, clothing, this question about the.

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Yuval Wagner: legal aspect of flexibility diesel engine started as someone that believed that we don't need it as the end of the day, I believe that you have to work on both ways.

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Yuval Wagner: Left zones that you can convince them on the business case and then the you know the social case of flexibility, and they will do it because they deliver but there's so many.

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Yuval Wagner: That, if you don't don't have those loans, they would never do it, so you have to use those two tools, a to actually make your country and I want to add another you know thought about it at the end of the day.

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Yuval Wagner: We, as people with disabilities live our life.

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Yuval Wagner: And life is not one thing it's everything and it will go in, I know it's you know it sounds crazy, but the real goal is not here and there, and there, and here is everything.

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Yuval Wagner: Everything must be accessible.

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Yuval Wagner: Because we need to be able to do everything so to do everything you need and.

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Yuval Wagner: The to engage in various ways to make it happen.

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Neil Milliken: yeah that makes perfect sense and yeah I mean we we don't want just to be able to participate in part of society we want to engage fully in every aspect of it and that requires accessibility to be a part of everything that we do so, so.

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Yuval Wagner: What one second sorry to interrupt you know.

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Yuval Wagner: Welcome, because you know some of us are coming you know, coming from a small country your code you say, but some of us are from a smaller countries, and you know another unique thing about Israel because of the loans.

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Yuval Wagner: exes mickey's engage everywhere in small towns any loud sounds from nose to east, south and south east, west so it's important because sometimes you go to.

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Yuval Wagner: Large you know, a two countries in the main cities, a lot is, you know very progressive they doing so, but you go 20 minutes aside and nothing is accessible.

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Yuval Wagner: Okay yeah so you know if you know that from it so that's another thing that we never talked about, because we usually visit the big cities, but when you go to the smallest cedar.

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Yuval Wagner: Fair you'll see this, we have to make sure is accessible to.

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Neil Milliken: I agree, and I think that as we use more and more technology.

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Neil Milliken: You know they there is this parallel and joined up effect with the the connectivity as well and Deborah can tell you about how good the wi fi is in the countryside, of the United States right.

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Neil Milliken: shaking.

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Neil Milliken: But, essentially, you know and we're engaged with with Africa.

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Neil Milliken: On a number of initiatives looking at assistive tech in Africa and actually just the cost of data and access to data.

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Neil Milliken: means that you have to have an entirely different approach to how you're doing assistive tech, because you can't take the.

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Neil Milliken: off the shelf Microsoft and Google tools, because you can't afford to because you either you don't have the connectivity, or you can't afford the connectivity so then.

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Neil Milliken: It changes, how you do it, so the the approach that you've got, you know as a as a you know, a small nation is great because it's everywhere.

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Neil Milliken: Obviously you know each country has different stages in their economic development, so how we align our accessibility programs also has to be different Deborah I know you had a question.

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Yuval Wagner: about them, I always.

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Debra Ruh: I got my mute off go ahead.

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Yuval Wagner: I always have questions.

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Debra Ruh: I always have questions yeah we're very well, I would say, all three of us on access chat we do this because we're so curious.

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Debra Ruh: But you know we are the United States and so all of the states are small countries really I mean that we're the United States and just.

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Debra Ruh: You know, following on me at with Neil said there's 330 million Americans and 163 million Americans do not have access to high speed internet.

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Debra Ruh: Which is shameful, I also want to make comment, based on what you said you've all when you're talking about the big cities being accessible sadly DC.

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Debra Ruh: The DC our capital of the United States is not accessible, I am mortified when guests come and do it's terrible you all you've been to DC it's terrible and so.

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Debra Ruh: I I wish other countries would follow the lead and I hope that people don't say, well, it was a small country that's why they're busy that's ridiculous, because there are a lot of small countries once again us as a bunch of small countries but.

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Debra Ruh: How do we get other countries to follow your lead, because you really, really are leading, and I would assume some of it is why you.

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Debra Ruh: Make so many efforts with your community to make sure its global but you know what can we do to follow your lead and and one more comment.

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Debra Ruh: Thank you all for making a carrot and the stick approach in the states as Antonio said, where we got our big stick out, but we have caused a lot of friction between the Community and.

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Debra Ruh: everybody else, because they feel like you know your Community people would just build these are so mean because we're suing them will then become accessible but anyway.

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Michal Rimon: So I I will I will, with your permission, you via I will talk to you a little bit about this international how how What about this community and how do we duplicate it.

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Michal Rimon: I think that.

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Yuval Wagner: yeah I want to build up before you.

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Yuval Wagner: know the.

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Michal Rimon: Go ahead.

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Yuval Wagner: to breed your your infant.

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Yuval Wagner: Because before going international one of the things that I learned that it's not about accessing them.

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Yuval Wagner: Okay, and it's something that you have to be to understand and it's very important, because if artist is a was wanting to control everything.

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Yuval Wagner: And do everything yourself, we will never get the same results, the moment we understood that and today in Israel, we have, I think more than around 1500 accessibility consultants and firms so i'm just easily only trying to do the next new things, or the next you know, a.

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Yuval Wagner: Development of flexibility, but the idea is how do we make as many people like us crazy like us wanted to make accessibility.

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Yuval Wagner: Because the more the better, because each one is doing more and more things, the country is coming in becoming more and more accessible so saying that when we learned this in Israel.

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Yuval Wagner: The same case is going international and you go here.

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Michal Rimon: So.

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Michal Rimon: yeah basically about eight years ago I went to my first international conference, it was zero project a great place to start.

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Michal Rimon: In Vienna at the UN building in Vienna and and I really came to learn and and I did I learned amazing amazing things and I think.

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Michal Rimon: The most amazing thing that zero project taught me, is it it doesn't matter if you're a billion dollar company or your.

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Michal Rimon: There was a Malaysian guy I think that has a little Nokia phone that just stuck took a.

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Michal Rimon: Video of him pulling his wheelchair, with a rope so when there is a an earthquake, he can evacuate himself easily, and I mean any innovation.

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Michal Rimon: It doesn't matter how much money you have behind it, as long as your innovative and it's duplicatable and sustainable.

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Michal Rimon: They wanted to share it but another thing that I found out during that conference is that I too have stuff to share it's not just coming and learning from but it's sharing with.

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Michal Rimon: And, and I think that one of the things that as you've all said we learned in access Israel, and you know, I was always approached and said, and people ask me.

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Michal Rimon: How come you, you have like 10 minutes at the UN to speak and you mentioned two Israeli organizations that are not you, why do you do that.

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Michal Rimon: And the reason is it's not about me it's not about access Israel, we are here.

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Michal Rimon: To achieve something, and if somebody else is doing a great job I want to put the spotlight on them and make sure everybody sees it.

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Michal Rimon: Because, maybe that is exactly the information that they want to see, and this is the basic of our international community that that we are so proud to have established basically.

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Michal Rimon: What we do is you know we started off with a conference annual conference we called it, the International access Israel conference when we had.

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Michal Rimon: Five international guests, we were very proud of that international city and the amazing thing is that it just expanded every single year, and I think that the key is that.

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Michal Rimon: we're not you know conferences are great and we go to conferences and learn and share, but we understood that we don't want to conference another conference, we want a connection.

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Michal Rimon: We want to make sure that a month or half a year after the Conference if I want to ask something I can just walk up and say hey debra.

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Michal Rimon: I need help and Deborah who will remember me fondly and remember the good time we're doing will say i'm here for you, what do you need, and this is the idea, the glue and we were referred to as excess Israel is only a glue.

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Michal Rimon: And i'm very proud to be a glue bringing people together experts from all over the world and really.

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Michal Rimon: You know, enabling everybody to both learn and share and we're very proud to do that and we're looking forward, I think covert 19 was a great opportunity.

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Michal Rimon: Because it's a lemon but we turned it into a lemonade with the international and global sharing and I think that if we started Neil, by saying that things are really starting to move very fast in a way, I think this is part of it, because we are borderless.

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Michal Rimon: And joining hands is what will make a strong.

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Neil Milliken: yeah I fully agree, and we have this amazing community and the whole point of access chat is around sharing and community, so thank you for being part of it, I also need to thank.

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Neil Milliken: Barclays access my clear text and micro link for continuing to support us to keep these communities alive i'm really looking forward to you taking part in our discussions on social media, not just this Tuesday, but continuing so thank you very much again it's been a real pleasure.

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Debra Ruh: Thank you, thank you.

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Michal Rimon: Thank you very much.

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Yuval Wagner: Next episode was talking.