Abbass Abbass

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2010
Almanarah Center


This profile was prepared when Abbass Abbass was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
Justice and equality, dignity and empowerment—these are not new ideas. Unfortunately, in many places and for many people, they remain just that: Dreams that have yet to take root and be realized. For the blind and visually impaired Arab inhabitants of Israel, a very new idea would be to take the dream of universal rights and marry it to an actionable plan for social justice. Arabs in Israel are already at a cultural and political disadvantage, a minority (approximately 20 percent) in a country at war with some of its surrounding Arab nations—and the Arab blind must contend with the additional burdens of ancient stigmas and modern ignorance. Abbass seeks to challenge stereotypes and to build capacity through advocacy, education, and empowerment. Through a set of comprehensive programs, Abbass is creating the first self-help organization for people with disabilities in Israeli Arab society; providing a bridge between various elements within Arab society, Arab and Jewish communities in Israel, and creating a model for Israel and, indeed, for other Arab countries.

Abbass’ concept for AlManarah is unique in its dialectic approach to the rights of the blind, in particular, and to disability rights in general. Although his focus is currently on the Arab blind of Israel, Abbass is committed to revolutionizing disability rights and social inclusion throughout the Arab World. He aims to transform both social perceptions and self-perceptions of the Arab blind; his organization fosters systemic social change through projects aimed at inclusion, integration and access, as well as self-change through therapy, community-building, and professional training. AlManarah utilizes two types of dialogue to achieve this goal. The first is intra-group dialogue—connection and collaboration within the Arab blind community of Israel. Integral to Abbass’ innovation is the idea of the blind helping each other. To do so, for instance, he has initiated the first Arabic Braille library in Israel, created an audio CD that informs the blind of their rights (i.e. now being adopted and distributed by the Israeli social security), and built a community center where blind Israeli Arabs can go for support, training, socializing, and employment advice.

The second kind of dialogue AlManarah facilitates is inter-group dialogue, integrating the blind into the larger Israeli Arab community through school and family outreach, leadership programs, parent and caregiver involvement, and supporting advocacy through the court system, and public education through the media. As part of this effort, Abbass is trying to encourage use of the term “persons with extra abilities” instead of “people with disabilities” or “disabled persons.” “We called our association ‘The Lighthouse’ because we think that we should light the path. Not the path of the blind, but the path for society as a whole. Our society is blind. It fails to see the blind,” Abbass told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

Abbass is the first person to have combined both self-help and societal change to assist the disabled Arabs in Israel. The innovation lies also in the approach and strategy: A rights-based approach for the empowerment of the individual, family and community, and action within society.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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