The physically, mentally and emotionally disabled are a reservoir for volunteering for other handicapped people and the general population, but they need help to suit themselves to such work.

This was one of the conclusions at the annual conference of the Leir Institute for the Management of Volunteering at Yad Sarah’s Jerusalem headquarters on Monday.

Nachum Itzkovitz, director-general of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, said at the beginning of the eighth annual meeting that the disabled need to be integrated into the community, and one of the best ways is to help those who cannot work for a living to volunteer. As ministry data show there is a decline in volunteering in the country, the disabled – who are more eager than healthy people to give of their free time to help others – should be utilized both in the IDF and in civilian life.

Sigal Friedman-Gamieli, who established the Leir Institute, said that many successes of volunteering have already been noted. But more must be done, she said.

Tamar Barnea, head of rehabilitation at the Joint Distribution Committee in Israel, said that studies have shown a third of disabled – constituting over 230,000 people – want to volunteer.

Among those with serious disabilities, more than 200,000 want to do voluntary work, she said. Those who cannot easily leave their home can help out, even using the phone. Among the possible projects are recycling and other ways to improve the environment.

Ahiya Kamara, the Justice Ministry’s equal opportunity commissioner – who himself is naturally deaf but able to hear and lectured skillfully using his pair of cochlear implants – said that even though the economic situation of the disabled is generally worse than average, they tend to volunteer more than the general population.

They also donate money, even though they have a low employment rate and much lower incomes.

He noted that disabled people volunteer for his office to report violations of laws meant to give the handicapped a fair chance, such as having access ramps to buildings and braille texts. A booklet is being prepared by his office, with help from disabled volunteers, to teach small businesses how to make themselves more accessible to the disabled.

He added that while some are unable to work at a paid job, volunteering can serve as training for eventually becoming a wage earner. They must be helped to realize they deserve wages and, after they have proved themselves, demand them, Kamara said.

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