Over 50 deaf and hard-of-hearing Israelis gathered in front of government offices in Tel Aviv on Sunday morning to demand increased funding for services for the deaf.

The demonstration had originally been planned in order to protest the government’s intention to reduce the amount of available sign language translation services due to budget cuts. However, an hour before the event, officials announced they will not implement the reduction and that NIS 2 million has been allocated to these services.

“We decided to hold the rally anyway and not cancel it,” said Yael Kakon, director of the Institute for the Advancement of Deaf Persons in Israel. “Our budget is still very limited and we find ourselves fighting for basic things everyday.”

Kakon explained that because of the upcoming election, the deaf in Israel remain in the dark about their budget for the upcoming year.

“Eight-thousand deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals can’t live their lives fully and be independent without translation services. This is not okay, especially not in a country that just passed a major accessibility law earlier this month,” she said.

Participants from all over the country made much noise with whistles and vuvuzelas, and held signs saying: “Can someone hear me?” and “Translators are our eyes and ears,” as well as posters calling for accessibility.

“This is the world of the hearing. It’s a world that expects us to adapt ourselves to it,” one of the organizers of the rally, Golan Zino, told the crowd in sign language.

“Everything is based on the assumption that everyone can hear. It’s the world of The Voice and Kochav Nolad,” he added.

Zino was born deaf to a deaf family and said he has never seen his difference as a disability: “To me it’s just a different culture, a different language,” he told The Jerusalem Post via a translator.

“I feel that I can do anything the hearing do,” he continued. “I am a citizen of Israel. I want to be part of society, to contribute to it, with my own language. I want to be able to understand what my banker, my doctor or my kids’ teachers say – and for that I need a translator.”

Today, deaf people in Israel are allowed 45 hours a year of translation services, an amount that participants described as very minimal.

“The government doesn’t recognize sign language as a language,” Zino noted. “I feel that because of that, I have been robbed of the right to contribute to society. They are basically telling me that I’m not valuable to them.”

Rabbi Shai Piron of the Yesh Atid party, who was present on Sunday morning, said that the “rapacious policies of the government cause severe damages to the deaf community.”

“The integration of people with disabilities in Israel has just been recognized as a legal duty, but unfortunately the Israeli government ignores its own laws and hurts the the citizens it promised to protect,” he added.

“Their right to an independent life and to interacting with their environment is unquestionable and the government must allocate an appropriate budget to this purpose.”

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