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Way To Go - In Jerusalem's Old City!

Way To Go - In Jerusalem's Old City! (Enlarge)

Domus Academy recognizes SHEKEL accessibility Initiative


You might ask what design, disabilities, history and holiness could have in common? Ordinarily, not much, but a holy cry of triumph went up in the Holy Land last spring, when the prestigious Domus Academy architectural design awards included a surprise recipient that brought them all together.


In the category of urban design, the first prize went to the Jerusalem Municipality’s state-of-the-art architectural accessibility plan for the Old City of Jerusalem. The plan, which was initiated and masterminded by leading Israeli NGO, SHEKEL – Community Services for People with Special Needs, will allow people with disabilities full access to the unique historic sites and alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem.


The prestigious international panel of Domus judges set a new precedent in awarding first prize to  a ‘universal design’ (a term used for designs that are created to serve the needs of the entire community, including the elderly, people with disabilities children, etc.). The landmark award was met with an emotional roar of applause at the Domus award ceremony held in Jerusalem. Chosen out of 300 designs submitted in this category, the prize reflected the plan's high standards of urban architectural design while revealing the Academy's understanding for the universal value of inclusion in 21st century society.


As Dr. Avi Ramot, Director of SHEKEL's accessibility program, pointed out, this is a truly pioneering project of international significance and proportions, since no accessibility plan has ever been implemented in an old city as ancient as the Old City of Jerusalem. In fact, only two or three other historical Old Cities have ever been made accessible for people with special needs in the world and these were considerably less ancient and therefore less complicated. "It is a very exciting time" remarked Ramot. "Making an ancient Old City accessible is a very challenging and complex undertaking which requires a great deal of out-of-the-box thinking and high levels of technical expertise.  I think everyone involved in this project takes it personally – it is a true privilege to be part of something this significant. It is also a real eye-opener - it makes you realize just how difficult it was for people with disabilities to get around in ancient times. So I feel in some way this is an historic statement, it shows society is no longer prepared to tolerate the exclusion of people with special needs from any facet of life or culture. We have already begun work on the ground, so it's all systems go right now. We are hopeful that our experience will inspire other Old Cities to follow suit."


This is not the first time that SHEKEL's accessibility projects have set world precedents. In directing the accessibility of Jerusalem's recently developed light-rail system, SHEKEL set new international standards in transport accessibility. Addressing the needs of people faced with both physical and/or cognitive disabilities, Jerusalem's light-rail is currently the most disabled-accessible such transport system in the world.





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