Sunday, December 3, countries around the world marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). This day is dedicated to raising international and local awareness of the potential—and benefits—of integrating people with disabilities into all spheres of life.

There are over one billion people in the world who suffer from a range of disabilities. Different countries and cultures possess varying approaches regarding needs of people with disabilities, but what makes Israel stand out among the rest is that it is presently the only country in the world that opens the gates of its military to its disabled citizens.  Its pioneering Special in Uniform program is transforming the fabric of Israeli culture by helping to create a more caring and inclusive society.

A joint project of the IDF, Lend-a-Hand to a Special Child, and the JNF, Special in Uniform integrates youth with physical disabilities into the IDF, imbuing them with pride in themselves and their abilities and enabling them to function independently and contribute positively to society.  Special in Uniform’s focus is on ability, not disability, upon utilizing and emphasizing talents and capacities of people with disabilities in order to foster independence and integration into mainstream society despite physical challenges.

Marking the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities in Israel, various groups and associations hosted a wide range of special events and programs throughout the week to raise awareness and promote the inclusion of individual with special needs into general society. In the framework of these activities, politicians spanning the political spectrum met with a delegation from  Special in Uniform on Monday. Government ministers who welcomed the group in the Knesset included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; opposition leader Isaac Herzog; Chairman of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid; Education Minister and leader of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett; and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan.

“In Israel, there are over 1.6 million people with disabilities. We are doing the right thing by welcoming them into our Army,” said Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education.

As a joint initiative of the IDF, Israeli Ministry of Social Services, and Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA), Special in Uniform is at the forefront of national efforts to integrate youths with disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and, ultimately, into Israeli society.

Yehonatan Gil, one of hundreds of participants in the program said:  “There are many obligations in the State of Israel– paying taxes and stopping at a red light, for example. But here, we have the privilege to come and say: ‘I am serving the State of Israel; I am serving the IDF.’

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan expressed that he is actively endeavoring to lay the groundwork for additional inclusion Army bases and to facilitate the process for people with disabilities. Special in Uniform’s dynamic directors maintain that “We’re working toward a substantial goal: Our aim is to ramp up to 1,000 enrolled participants over the next four years.”