More than 1.36 million people or 24 percent of Israelis see themselves as disabled, according to a new study released Monday by the Commission for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities, which is under the auspices of the Justice Ministry.
"Until now we always believed it was only 10 percent of the population who was disabled," commented Dr. Dina Feldman, commissioner for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities, who authored the report together with Dr. Eliyahu Ben-Moshe.
"It is actually much higher than we anticipated. Nine percent of people with disabilities see themselves as severely disabled. This is a very dramatic statistic."
The 64-page report was compiled based on data collected from the Central Bureau of Statistics, various independent studies and a report published by the commission two years ago. It was released to coincide with the International Day of the Disabled, which was marked worldwide on Sunday.
Within the framework of the day, the Equality Commission for People with Disabilities is holding a day of activities in the Knesset on Tuesday and a series of events on Thursday to raise awareness for disabled people's rights among legislators.
"The report also shows us that everyone is at risk from becoming disabled at some point in their lives," continued Feldman, highlighting that the statistics show how the disabled population increases with age.
According to the data collected, people over the age of 75 make up the highest percentage of those with disabilities (60%), with children making up 13% and babies born with disabilities only 2%.
The report also found that more than 700,000 people of work age (20-64) are considered disabled.
Of the problems affecting those with disabilities, the report indicated that 31% suffer from mental illness, 25% from internal diseases and 20% from retardation. Six percent and 2% reported disabilities in seeing and hearing, respectively. Among children, 16% suffer from chronic illnesses, 14% from physical disabilities, 11% from emotional problems and 6% from retardation.
Feldman said that what surprised her most about the data was that contrary to popular belief, many disabled people contribute to society and many of them have strong family ties. The report found that 68% of disabled men serve in the army and many were in touch with family members on a daily basis.
Furthermore, she said, the growth in the number of disabled people who were facing economic hardship and depression was alarming. Thirty seven percent of people with disabilities had to forgo at least part of their essential medication in 2003 due to economic factors, compared to only 10% of the mainstream population, found the report.
At least 69% of people with disabilities reported a monthly income of less than NIS 2,000, compared to 19% in the non-disabled sector, and only 13% of those with disabilities earned more than NIS 7,000 a month. In the general population, that figure was 40%. Forty-four percent of the disabled population said they did not see any chance of economic improvement in the foreseeable future.
The general outlook for people with disabilities was equally as bleak, with 18% of those with serious disabilities stating that they were not satisfied with their lives, compared to 2% of the non-disabled population.
"What is going on here?" emphasized Feldman. "The state spends so much on helping people with disabilities but it does not seem to be working.
Why are there so many people so depressed?"
Feldman added that the report did not study the social and physical accessibility that many times contributes to making the lives of disabled people in Israel much harder.
"Perhaps if the environment was better equipped for them the picture might be different," she said.
The report would help the commission to build a monitoring body to assess the status of disabled persons in Israel in the future, said Feldman, adding that it would also provide valuable information to the Equal Opportunities Employment Commission that would hopefully be in place by the end of 2006.