With temperatures expecting to surge in the coming days, most of the country will most likely make their way to the beach or one of the many public swimming pools. However, for thousands of people with physical disabilities, lack of access to the majority of the country’s public pools will mean they have to stay away.

This problem is highlighted clearly in a report published Thursday by nonprofit organization Access Israel.

According to research carried out by the organization, which lobbies for equal rights for people with disabilities, some 92 percent of public pools are partially or completely inaccessible to those with disabilities.

“Everyone in Israel loves spending the summer at swimming pools but unfortunately for more than 600,000 people with disabilities and their families it is an impossible task,” commented Yuval Wagner, director and founder of Access Israel.

“It’s just not fair that these people cannot visit a swimming pool like everyone else, it’s total discrimination,” continued Wagner, himself a disabled war veteran who has experienced firsthand the disappointment and indignity of not being able to access public places like everyone else.

“The situation is intolerable,” he emphasized, adding that it is time for the local authorities and individual pool operators to pay more attention to the problem and do more to improve access.

Access Israel’s survey, which checked some 60 public pools countrywide, found that at least 45% were not accessible at all for people with disabilities, while 47% were only partially accessible.

In addition, the survey noted that at nearly half the pools (40%) there is no way for people with disabilities to enter or exit the water and 82% of the places do not have adequate showering facilities. A quarter of the places do not even have parking spots available.

Evaluating each place based on its accessible parking, ease of overall entrance into the facility, entrance and exit into the pool itself, and accessibility to showers, bathrooms and changing rooms, the NGO noted in a statement that this is in direct contradiction to a 2005 law calling for all public places, including swimming pools, to be accessible for everyone.

Wagner said that the main problem was that local authorities are not working hard enough to enforce the law. He highlighted that business licenses should not be renewed if such places do not comply with the law on accessibility.

In response to the report, Ahiya Kamara, the Justice Ministry’s commissioner for equal rights of people with disabilities, said that complaints about inaccessibility to public swimming pools were totally justified.

However, he pointed out that changing the situation is part of a bigger process of raising public awareness of people with disabilities and improving accessibility. Kamara said some enormous changes have taken place in the public sphere, including in access to public transportation and planning permission for new buildings, which allow people with disabilities the same access to public places as anyone else.

“It’s a complicated and lengthy legal process to get new and existing public places to become accessible to people with disabilities,” explained Kamara, highlighting that only in the last few weeks was the commission given responsibility for attempting to enforce the law concerning accessibility in new public buildings and housing projects.

However, he explained that while enforcing the law at already existing public swimming pools falls under the jurisdiction of the local authorities, the commission is still doing all it can to raise awareness both among the public and the authorities.

“In addition to legal enforcement, we are trying to make a change in the public’s understanding of accessibility and why it is important,” said Kamara, adding that in the coming months the commission will hold a workshop aimed at urging the licensing departments of local authorities not to renew permits for businesses that do not comply with the accessibility law.

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