Birthright, the 10 day Israel trip, which has brought some 220,000 Jews aged 18 to 26 to Israel since its inception in 2000, also runs specially tailored Birthright programs for those with disabilities. They have organized trips for young people with Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, for the hearing impaired, the developmentally disabled and wheelchair users, and has had one trip for blind participants. By the end of 2009, at least 28 groups of people with special needs will have traveled to Israel on Birthright since 2003.
The Birthright trips for the disabled visit all the major sites of a typical Birthright trip, but changes are made to suit the participants’ unique needs.
At Masada, they do not ascend to the ancient citadel via the rigorous serpentine trail. Instead, they tour the Roman ramparts at the bottom of the hill and take the cable car to the top.
At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, organizers highlight the persecution by the Nazis of people with disabilities. Asperger's trips hold discussions about the Nazis' persecution of Eastern European Jewry in classrooms located next to the museum to provide a better environment for participants to absorb the information.
Despite their popularity, the frequency of Birthright trips for the disabled is limited due to budgetary constraints.
The costs of the trips for the disabled are higher for several reasons. Each group has a higher staff-to-participant ratio -- one to three on the Asperger's trip, for example, compared with one to 20 for regular Birthright trips.
In addition, some groups need specific and sometimes expensive facilities. Mobile-impaired groups need special buses that can accommodate more than 20 people in wheelchairs, and organizers have to scout every destination to make sure they are wheelchair accessible.