“When you get to know someone personally, you look at the individual and not at
his or her disability,” Maj.-Gen. (res) Ami Ayalon, the chairman of Akim – The
National Association for the Habilitation of the Intellectually Disabled, said
at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday at the launch of the
Israel Index of People with Intellectual Disabilities.
people who are different enable us to treat them as equals and to recognize not
only their humanity, but our own,” said Ayalon addressing a representative body
of Israel’s social mosaic, whose very presence proved that no sector or strata
of society is immune to members with special needs.
Citing a survey among
605 people that included respondents from both the Jewish and Arab sectors and
was conducted by the B.I. and Lucille Cohen Institute at Tel Aviv University,
Akim CEO Sigal Peretz Yahalomi revealed that 67 percent of those questioned said
that they did not know how to talk to a person with intellectual
Fifty-two percent said that they would not want to meet
anyone with disabilities and special needs.
Over half of the respondents
said that they believe that people with intellectual disabilities have no right
to bring children into the world, 37% would deny them voting rights, and in all
responses, there was far greater bias against people with intellectual
disabilities than those with physical disabilities.
Akim works to change
attitudes by annually measuring the levels of inclusion to see to what extent
Israeli society has progressed in its acceptance of intellectually disabled
children in regular schools, intellectually disabled adults in the workplace and
intellectually disabled people of all ages in the leisure activities of clubs
The best place for such integration to begin was in the
school room, said Ayalon, noting that when children grow up with each other,
disabilities don’t get in the way.
People with intellectual disabilities
should be allowed to decide for themselves where to study, where to live, where
to work and where to spend their leisure time, said the Akim chairman, in
response to some of the findings that indicated the reluctance of most people to
work in the same room as someone who is intellectually disabled or to live close
to someone who is intellectually disabled.
Yoss Weisbrot, 29, who is one
of 34,500 intellectually disabled people in Israel, said that he was an actor
who performs with a group that goes around the country creating greater
understanding and acceptance of people like him.
For the past four years,
he has also been working at the Beilinson Hospital branch of the Aroma coffee
shops. Weisbrot said that he was happy to have a job, in that it allowed him to
contribute to the economy and to work in a place where he is treated just like
“I feel like I’m part of the general community,” he said,
proving the truth behind Ayalon’s contention that it is important to look at the
person and not the disability.
Approximately 25% of respondents to the
survey said that they would not want to be served in a restaurant by a person
Yet for all the negative findings in the survey, Akim
maintains an optimistic outlook.
A group of the organization’s musicians
and singers provided the entertainment for the event and the first song they
performed was “B’hol adam malah” (“There’s an angel in every
Akim operates in 77 cities and towns throughout Israel, and
Peretz Yahalomi singled out the Ashdod, Ra’anana and Dimona municipalities for
the exemplary services they provide for the intellectually disabled, and for
their openness toward integrating the intellectually disabled into the
Ilana Nuriel, who chairs the Friends of Akim group,
was happy to report that over the last year, many more companies have provided
employment for people under the Akim umbrella, and were contributing to their
selfesteem by treating them like any other worker.
President Shimon Peres
acknowledged that although Akim is in need of additional financial resources, it
is giving the adults and children in its care something far more valuable than
money: dignity and respect.
He was also happy with the semantic change in
the organization’s mission statement, in that the intellectually challenged are
no longer referred to as retarded or handicapped.
Peres, whose abiding
interest in scientific research is currently focused on the brain and how it
works, was confident that within the next decade, researchers would find what it
is in the brain that causes or prevents different functions, and would
eventually be able to provide treatment for what nature has
Through its own education system, its hostels, its clubs and
its summer camps, Akim encourages people to realize the best in themselves and
to see the cup as half full rather than half empty. As a result of this
encouragement, increasing numbers of young people in the organization have
proudly joined the IDF.