Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman signed a regulation over the weekend that will compel public buildings to provide access for people with disabilities.
The Justice Ministry’s Commission for Equal Rights for People with Disabilities began preparing the regulation, which applies to all existing public buildings, back in 2006.
The Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approved the regulation in July 2010, following a lengthy process of debate in the Subcommittee on the Law for Equal Rights for Disabled People, headed by MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz).
Last week, after Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) gave his agreement to the regulation, the Likud’s Neeman was finally able to sign it.
In a statement on Sunday, Neeman called the regulation “important news that will affect and make life easier for the wider public.
“Providing accessibility to public buildings for people with disabilities is the obligation of Israeli society,” he added.
According to the Commission for Equal Rights, there are around 1.5 million Israelis with disabilities.
Of these, 293,000 have serious disabilities and 491,000 moderate ones.
While a 2009 amendment to the planning and building regulations requires all new buildings to provide access for people with disabilities, many existing public buildings – including those housing government services, local authority offices and private leisure facilities – remain inaccessible, effectively barring hundreds of thousands of people from entry.
Accessibility issues include a lack of entry ramps, elevators and toilets adapted for people with limited mobility, and markings to aid people with poor vision.
Ahia Kamara, commissioner of the Commission for Equal Rights, said in a statement that Neeman’s signing of the regulation was a “day of celebration for people with disabilities in Israel.”
The commission will now work to enforce the regulation, which is set to come into effect six months after its publication, Kamara said.
“As the body charged with enforcing the regulation, the Commission for Equal Rights for People with Disabilities will work with the tools that the legislature has provided in order that the law is correctly applied,” Kamara said.
“At the same time, the commission will explain to the public charged with providing access the importance of accessibility, as well as the benefits that we as a society gain when people with disabilities are integrated in every aspect of life.”
Yuval Wagner, CEO of the nonprofit organization Access Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that the new regulation is extremely good news.
“We are very pleased. This is a most important regulation because it applies to all existing public buildings in Israel,” Wagner said. “Until now, only new buildings had to ensure access for people with disabilities.”
While welcoming the regulation, Wagner cautioned that the short time frame for making buildings accessible is likely to make it costly and complicated to implement.
The private sector is required to provide accessibility to all existing buildings by the end of 2015.
Local authorities must do the same by the end of 2021, and other public bodies by the end of 2018.
“In our opinion, this time frame is unfair and it’s also not realistic, especially for the private sector,” he said. “What may well happen is that businesses will find they aren’t able to meet the requirements of the regulation.”
If private companies cannot provide disabled access in time, the regulation might have to be amended to make compliance easier, Wagner said.
“We had hoped that before the regulation came into force, the commission would provide private businesses detailed knowledge about what exactly they are required to do to make buildings accessible,” he said.
“Access Israel now calls on the Commission for Equal Rights for People with Disabilities to immediately carry out an awareness campaign to let the public know exactly what they are required to do to implement this regulation.”
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