Two-fifths of Israelis would not be willing to meet people with intellectual disabilities, according to a study by AKIM – The National Association for the Habilitation of the Intellectually Disabled.

President Shimon Peres said the findings of the second social index on people with intellectual disabilities were “not encouraging” when Ami Ayalon, chairman of AKIM, presented them to him on Monday.

Forty-two percent of respondents said they were not prepared to meet people with disabilities. Additionally, 43% thought that they should be separated from society, 18.8% would not want to live next door to a learning-disabled person and 25% feared the intellectually disabled to be aggressive and dangerous.

Shmuel Ben-Talilat, a middle-aged resident of the new AKIM hostel in Holon, said that initially the neighbors were unfriendly, “but when they realized we weren’t dangerous or violent, they became more welcoming and even helped us. Now people can see that it’s all right for us to live anywhere.”

Peres said that equality was a basic right to which Israel aspired for all its people, and that a much broader educational effort was required to get people to accept those who were different from themselves.

He quoted parents who said that their lives had been “enriched” by raising children with intellectual disabilities, given as encouragement for those whose babies had been diagnosed. One parent said the process had helped to “learn the true essence of life,” while another said, “love conquers all. Your fears will be replaced by a great love.” Peres said he had been very moved by these statements.

Ayalon, a former member of Knesset, and before that the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), shared a story he had read about a prayer service in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market that would not accept a man as one of its requisite quorum of ten because he was “not altogether normal.” The author of the story, another man who was asked to join the quorum, noted that he could not detect which worshiper was being singled out, even after the prayers began, showing that misconceptions about other people can lead to prejudice.

Addressing Ben-Talilat’s story, Ayalon said that in view of the hostility voiced by the neighbors, AKIM had strong reservations about moving the hostel to its present site, but that Ben-Talilat, speaking on behalf of his friends had said: “Don’t worry. When the neighbors get to know us, they’ll like us.” Ayalon said that this was what happened.

People let their bias get the better of them, Ayalon said.

“We have to get them to understand that ten men suffice for a minyan,” he said. “They don’t need eleven.”

Ilana Nuriel, who chairs the Israel Friends of AKIM, said that some business proprietors and human resources managers had complied with AKIM’s requests to integrate people with disabilities into their workforces.

The survey indicated that the public is negatively disposed toward giving people with intellectual disabilities any sense of independence, such as voting rights, the right to decide on health issues that they might have or the right to bring children into the world.

It also included a section on municipal services for people with intellectual disabilities. Jerusalem, with the largest population in this category, is far in the lead, with educational facilities and integration into regular schools, community centers and the workforce.

Other leading municipalities include Ashdod, Ra’anana and Dimona, according to the study. In the Arab sector, the municipality which supplies the best and largest range of services for people with intellectual disabilities is that of Baka al-Gharbiya.

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