March 11, 2024
Portal Provides Wartime Solutions for Israelis with Disabilities
The ESNA Initiative (short for Emergency Special Needs Assistance) acts as a universal portal for disabled people who have a specific need or request, but feel unable to search for it themselves (Depositphotos)

Israel was plunged into war on October 7, when Hamas terrorists from Gaza launched an unprecedented attack on the country’s southern border communities, killing 1,400 people, abducting hundreds and wounding thousands more. 

And for the more than 1.5 million people in Israel living with disabilities, it has been a time of quiet suffering, frequently isolated and struggling to ask for the practical and emotional help they need. 

Determined to aid this often overlooked community, an organization that supports autistic people has created a new online service to help them get that assistance. 

The ESNA Initiative (short for Emergency Special Needs Assistance) acts as a universal portal for disabled people who have a specific need or request, but feel unable to search for it themselves. 

A screenshot from the ESNA website. The text in yellow reads: “You are not alone”

The platform brings together specialist organisations, helplines, professionals and volunteers in one place, in order to ease the process of finding the best response to a disabled person’s specific need from a potentially overwhelming maze of resources. 

Once the person has completed a simple online form, the volunteers staffing the ESNA platform reach out to help them make contact with the relevant body or professionals. 

“Our volunteers make the match, contact an organization, ask them if they can help this specific person, make that connection and ensure that the problem has been solved,” Ilana Mushkin, one of the creators of the initiative, tells NoCamels. 

The initiative was born out of Hackautism, an organisation encouraging startups that ease the daily lives of people with autism. Following the events of October 7, Hackautism co-founder Mushkin brought together women connected to that organization to find a way of supporting Israel’s disabled community.

These women included Hackautism spokesperson Karin Tamir and Moria Barak, the founder of StellarAI, a startup to train autistic people in the field of AI data classification. 

Hackautism co-founder Rimon Tubin, left, with his son Yuval, who inspired him to create the organization (Courtesy)

There are many resources for people with disabilities, says Mushkin. The problem is that narrowing it down to which hotline or organization is best suited for the individual can be daunting, especially in times of war when people are under extraordinary stress. 

“I would guess that there are hundreds if not thousands of organizations and hotlines out there,” she says. “There are so many of them right now, but you have to know how to reach them and make sure your request gets processed.”

The ESNA initiative began as a WhatsApp group, which was almost instantly flooded with requests for help.

“We realized that if we wanted to be able to really give help on a large scale, we needed a system that was much more sustainable,” says Mushkin. 

Using technology donated by, a NASDAQ-listed project management software company based in Tel Aviv, ESNA was able to create a bespoke platform that handles both incoming requests and its many points of contact for assistance. 

ESNA began as a WhatsApp group, which was almost instantly flooded with requests for help (Courtesy Porapak Apichodilok/Pexels)

“The system lets us receive a large number of requests for help and deal with them very efficiently,” she explains.  

Volunteers use a triage system, categorizing each request in order of urgency and dealing with the most time-sensitive issues first.

And for the people in need of assistance, says Mushkin, the site is as simple as it can be. 

The webpage includes just five links. The first four links are: for individuals seeking help, which leads to the simple request form; for urgent cases, which leads to a WhatsApp chat with an ESNA volunteer; for would-be volunteers; and for organizations and operation centers wishing to participate in the initiative. 

The final link leads to a Zoom meeting room, which is open every day from 8am to 10pm and is also staffed by ESNA volunteers.

“It’s for the people that need to talk to somebody,” says Mushkin of the Zoom feature. 

“Maybe they can’t fill out a form, maybe they’re too frazzled to even wrap their heads around it.

“They can go into our Zoom room where someone will talk to them, help them fill out the form, and connect them to an expert in the field in real-time if need be.”

Illustrative: For individuals who feel to frazzled to fill out a form, there is an ESNA Zoom room that is open from 8am to 10pm (Courtesy Anna Shvets/Pexels)

The hundreds of people who have already used the platform have sought assistance with a wide range of issues. 

One case, shares Mushkin, was of a mother with two children on the autism spectrum who came under fire from Hamas terrorists while evacuating their community in the south of the country. Israeli soldiers saved them at the very last minute, and the family managed to reach the safety of Even Yehuda, a town in central Israel. 

ESNA was able to quickly find volunteers from the same city to bring them food and provide them with psychological support. 

Another case was of a blind woman who was evacuated from Nahariya on the Lebanese border, and had been forced to leave her home without her cane. She found refuge at a hotel in Tel Aviv, but was unable to replace her cane unaided. 

ESNA volunteers helped buy and deliver a replacement cane for a blind woman who was evacuated from northern Israel (Courtesy Eren Li/Pexels)

ESNA was able to contact a center for the blind to open their shop for one of the organization’s volunteers to buy a replacement cane and deliver it to her. 

“No bot, no AI, nothing like that could have answered these kinds of cases,” says Mushkin. 

ESNA is not the only initiative offering services to disabled people in need. Other initiatives include Shavvim (Hebrew for equals), an online media outlet for people with disabilities, which has collaborated with former member of Knesset and deaf activist Shirly Pinto to open a 24/7 situation room. 

This project also aids individuals who need help with essential requests such as finding psychological assistance, refilling prescriptions and buying groceries.  

ESNA’s partners include the National Israeli Society for Children and Adults with Autism (ALUT), which provides a range of services for people with autism of all ages nationwide; Access Israel, whose main mission is to promote accessibility and inclusion among all sectors; and Brothers in Arms, an organisation of IDF reservists who provide full-time aid and relief to those in need. 

A Hackautism volunteer (Courtesy)

The platform also has 15 other initiatives created through Hackautism that are available to assist with specific requests. “We are proud to offer innovative solutions to the challenges we now face,” says Rimon Tubin, co-founder of Hackautism. 

The entire ESNA platform is managed by a team of around two dozen volunteers and ESNA is actively seeking more help to address the growing number of daily requests. 

“People can volunteer in an impactful way from their home or from their office,” says Mushkin.

“All it takes is to go into our system and connect these people with the organizations that could best help them,” she explains. “It’s very gratifying.”

To donate to Hackautism, click here.