A wheelchair at Tel Aviv's Yarkon River 370.
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS / Reuters)
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.