A ray of light

One organization's meaningful impact on children with disabilities
Keren Or student and educator experiencing the “ray of light” together. Photo courtesy: Keren Or

I was raised by a mother who devoted her life to teaching blind and visually impaired children in New York. Since my early childhood, she has exposed me to various organizations and individuals who triumph despite their disabilities and how she strives to comprehensively improve the lives of her students. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the array of organizations in Israel that are paving the way in technology and educational strategies for such individuals. To learn more about the work of one of these organizations, I reached out to Eliana Buiumsohn, for a conversation. Eliana is the Vision Department Coordinator at Keren Or Jerusalem Center for Children with Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities. The insights she provided to me about Keren Or are so awe-inspiring and motivational.

A visually impaired child learns how to use technology. Photo courtesy: Keren Or

The Keren Or Center is a leading pioneer in the field of visual impairment and complex multi-disability therapy. Children at Keren Or have various levels of visual impairments and concurring disabilities. At Keren Or, 90% of students are diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), a type of brain-based vision impairment. However, CVI is only one piece of a child’s complex diagnosis, often among other brain involvement issues, such as cerebral palsy and autism. To meet children’s individual needs, Keren Or holistically creates a customized care plan for each student to achieve their full potential.

Keren Or, meaning ray of light in Hebrew, perfectly represents their core mission to “bring light to every one of their students.” Keren Or utilizes substantial resources to help students gain increased independent control of their environment. For students needing full-time caretaking, their ability to feel some semblance of freedom and complete certain tasks, no matter how small they may seem to an abled person, is critical to their well-being. Keren Or’s utilization of innovative technology, a world-renowned hydrotherapy center, tactile library and a team of educators, therapists and nurses, aims to serve such an objective.

There’s nothing like splashing around in the pool in a hydrotherapy session. Photo courtesy: Keren Or

Keren Or boasts a world-class, fully accessible hydrotherapy center comprising a large pool, jacuzzi, ceiling lifts, and accessible locker rooms. The benefits of this center allow disabled children to have increased muscle control and strength and enable some students who use wheelchairs to take their first steps. However, their approach also focuses on giving students the freedom to move independently. For those severely disabled and visually impaired, the pool gives them freedom, which is often the first time in their lives they can navigate their surroundings unassisted. This is just one strategy Keren Or implements to advance students’ physical capabilities to improve their day-to-day autonomy, while simultaneously bringing light and joy to students. At Keren Or, learning is truly enjoyable.

Eliana shared a heartfelt experience, where her student, Jacob, said “I love you” to his parents for the first time. Eliana introduced him to Eye-Gaze control technology, which enables individuals that cannot talk to ‘speak’ with the movement of their eyes. Jacob has gained the independence to share his needs, preferences and feelings. At Keren Or, no child is left behind. The school goes through extreme efforts to meet students where they are and uses technology and every resource possible to help these students achieve their fullest potential. Keren Or recognizes that every person, given the limitations they were born with, deserves self-efficacy.

A child connects with his educator by engaging with musical instruments. Photo courtesy: Keren Or

When I spoke with my mother about her personal journey and involvement with the visually impaired community, she reminisced about her graduate professor Dr. Christine Roman, a leader in CVI and holistic individualized treatment methods. Coincidentally, from my conversation with Eliana, I learned that Keren Or’s philosophy is inspired from Dr. Roman’s teachings. Suddenly everything made sense! This small but inspiring school’s values resonate so deeply with me because their holistic approach came from the same influential teacher who inspired my mother, who in turn inspired me!

I was pleased to learn that Keren Or makes every effort to share its technology, innovations, and holistic teaching method abroad. Keren Or works in partnership with the world-renowned Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. Concurrently, Keren Or and Perkins created “Building Connections,” a first-of-its-kind conference held in Israel, to educate organizations, professionals and parent groups about the impact of vision loss combined with other disabilities and revolutionary programs. Keren Or is one of many Israel-based organizations globally trailblazing disability treatment. In fact, Ra’anana-based nonprofit, Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS), won special consultative status in 2012 from the United Nations! Fascinatingly, BIS established Israel’s first hydrotherapy center in 1992 and influenced the government to cover hydrotherapy under universal health insurance. The country now boasts over 120 hydrotherapy centers; Keren Or having one of them!

Are you also inspired by Keren Or’s mission and want to learn more or get involved? Check out their website! Keren Or offers social programs and educational opportunities for college students and young professionals – in the United States and Israel. Their website also shares a wealth of knowledge about holistic medical and educational approaches that are valuable to every educator, student or person that wants to better understand people with disabilities, and learn how they can approach life with a holistical, joyful outlook!

Want to see another organization, solely created to foster cheerful and autonomous medical approaches? The Israeli nonprofit “Prescriptions for Life,” turns the hospital into an educational setting in a fun way – giving tools for chronically ill children to become a ‘doctor’ for their own lives and see the hospital as a space that heals mind, body, and spirit!

Groundbreaking Israel content is developed by ISRAEL21c’s Digital Ambassadors.

Amanda Cetina is a junior at Binghamton University dual-majoring in Politics, Philosophy, and Law (PPL), and Hebrew.


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