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There has been a significant growth over the past decade in the number of Israelis with disabilities choosing to become parents, according to a comprehensive study published Tuesday by the American Jewish-Joint Distribution Committee's Unit for Disabilities and Rehabilitation.
Based on surveys and studies conducted by independent and government bodies over the past few years, as well as on in-depth interviews with policy-makers, community leaders, service providers and academics, more than 336,000 people with disabilities have children under the age of 18.
"People with disabilities are feeling much more independent and parenthood for those with disabilities is much more accepted in our society than it ever was in the past," said Tamara Barnea, director of the JDC's Unit for Disabilities and Rehabilitation.
Barnea, who said the study was the most comprehensive ever, added that there has been a sharp increase in requests from parents, especially mothers, for support groups and services.
"Not only has there been more disabled parents claiming welfare benefits from the National Insurance Institute, we have also found a need to provide them and their children with services," she said.
The study will form the basis for programs currently being designed by the newly created Foundation for the Disabled, a partnership between the state, the JDC and the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation to provide community services for those with any type of physical, emotional, cognitive, mental or health disability, Barnea said.
This report is essential because it will create a development strategy for community services to help the ever-changing disabled community, explained Barnea, highlighting that since 2000 the proportion of people receiving state disability allowances has tripled compared to the increase in the country's population.
"Most of that growth is due to the baby boomer generation, which has now reached 55 plus," she said. "We can see a surge in baby boomers reaching a certain age, and that has increased the number of disabled."
The increase has also been due to the number of people with chronic illnesses who can now be counted as being disabled, or not able to function adequately in society.
"Improved medicines has meant that people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, end up living longer, and that means more people can be counted as disabled," she said. "Now is a critical time to develop new types of services for new categories of disabled people."
According to the report, while until now it has been accepted that roughly 10 percent of Israelis are considered disabled, today the figure is more like 18%. That, said Barnea, is due to the inclusion of people with chronic illnesses. The report also noted that every third Israeli has a close family member with some type of disability.
In addition, the report examined disabilities in the Arab sector, where it noted that the rate is almost three times that in the Jewish community, and levels of loneliness among the disabled. More than 30% of those with severe disabilities and 16% of those with medium level disabilities have feelings of loneliness, compared to only 5% of people without disabilities.
Access to computers, the reports authors said, helps to fill that void, but currently only 51% of those with medium disabilities and 24% of those with severe disabilities use a computer, compared to 71% of those without disabilities.