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The National Insurance Institute's medical panel for determining the level of a person's physical disability came under scrutiny Tuesday as the Knesset Committee for Labor, Welfare and Health, chaired by MK Moshe Sharoni (Gil), demanded it respond to accusations in the media that "fall tests" are still regularly used to determine whether a disabled person is really disabled.
Tuesday's inquiry came after two MKs, Colette Avital (Labor-Meimad) and Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP), called on the committee to hold an emergency meeting looking into the use of such tests, which check to see if a wheelchair-bound person will fall if asked to stand up.
According to reports in Haaretz, "fall tests" are employed from time to time, even if the person in question has all the medical documentation to prove that they are disabled and even if the test causes extreme humiliation to the person being tested.
Esther Ozna retold her personal story before the Knesset committee, describing how two years ago during a medical evaluation she was asked to stand up even though she told the doctor that her legs would not hold her. Ozna said she fell to the floor and that her daughter, who was accompanying her at the time, was still traumatized by the incident.
"It is well known that tests given by the NII medical panel to check the level of disability are extremely degrading," Sylvia Tessler-Lozowick, executive director of Bizchut, the Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. "There has been an initiative to change the process but it has not been fruitful up until now. I think it is very necessary for the authorities to reconsider how to test, not only people with physical disabilities but also the elderly and people with mental illnesses."
Yehuda Doron, board member of the Umbrella Body of Disabled Organizations, one of Israel's largest groups promoting disabled rights, said that his organization was currently in the process of mobilizing all organizations servicing the disabled in Israel.
"We want to change the way the tests are conducted," he said following the meeting. "The medical panels should take place in the hospitals where the disabled people are treated, in the presence of doctors who know their condition."
Doron added that he was disappointed by the outcome of the meeting because no decision was made to change the policy.
However, Dr. Itzhak Siev-Ner, head of the Health Ministry's Medical Committee for Determining Mobility among Disabled People, told the Post afterwards that the Knesset meeting had raised an important issue and that there was room to discuss how the panel works.
Siev-Ner and Prof. Asher Or Noy, both representing the Health Ministry, which jointly oversees the medical panels with the NII, highlighted that efforts to create a separate professional body to determine guidelines for disability tests had been postponed due to budget concerns.
Answering the question of whether "fall tests" still exist to determine levels of disability, Siev-Ner denied such tests were used.
NII spokesman Haim Fitussi also denied that "fall tests" were used.
"We use many different tests to determine their physical capabilities," he said, adding that he was doubtful changes to the overall system of testing would be made in the near future.