Too often, they are sidelined to the fringes of society, but on Monday, people
with disabilities were the guests of honor at the President’s Residence for the
signing of a treaty, that at least on paper, will give them the same employment
rights as able-bodied men and women.
The treaty is based on the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and obligates
organizations and institutions in both the private and public sectors to work
through their inter-sector directorates to formulate policy for integrating
persons with disabilities into the workforce, and to create conditions that
enable them to maintain their dignity and to realize their career
Many of those attending came in wheelchairs, on crutches or
were aided by walking sticks.
Even so, they were not in the majority.
Most of the people in the room were representatives of government ministries,
social welfare institutions, the Histadrut labor federation, Chambers of
Commerce and the Israel Manufacturers Association.
The underlying message
was that the best way to eliminate discrimination against people with
disabilities is to focus on what they can do, rather than what they
The message was more than obvious in the personality of perky and
pretty moderator Bat El Papura, who is a radio announcer and actress. She also
happens to be a dwarf, and while she acknowledged this puts her in the category
of being limited in things she can do, she has still managed to do more or less
what she wants.
One of the highlights of the event was a film made by
members of Shekel, which provides employment outlets for persons with
disabilities. The film was about four disabled people who have found
employment simply because their abilities rather than their disabilities were
recognized by their employers.
One who is blind and partially deaf is a
computer whiz. Another who dismantles electronic equipment said he wished his
father was alive to see how well he is doing. Another who used to work for Teva
and was disabled by a work accident, which put him out of action for more than
two years, said that before the accident he was in high demand wherever he went
and could virtually name his own job. After the accident he was treated as a
second-class citizen and had great difficulty in finding work. He finally got a
job though, and slowly regained his self esteem.
The fourth person was a
mentally challenged woman who does cleaning chores in a food outlet. She loves
what she’s doing and she’s good at it. She said she also earns well. Her
employer said she realized a long time ago that the woman’s comprehension is far
better than is generally estimated. She understands everything she is asked to
do, in light of which she was given more difficult tasks and carried them out
The treaty is the outcome of an initiative promoted by Raanan
Dinur, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during the Ehud Olmert
administration. Dinur worked together with Eyal Gabai, former
directorgeneral of the Prime Minister’s Office during the current administration
and with Joint Distribution Committee director-general Arnon Mantver.
March 2010, the forum of directors-general of government ministries approved the
participation of the government in this process and agreed among themselves that
people with disabilities should be given equal employment
opportunities. The issue was then brought to the attention of the Justice
Ministry, the business sector, the Histadrut, social welfare organizations and
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, invoking Biblical record,
said all human beings come from the same source and none should suffer
discrimination on the grounds of being different or disabled.
Rashi, the religiously observant minister said one must not curse the
Everyone has the basic right to work he said, adding he was pleased
that all government ministries now employ people with disabilities and more
people with disabilities are increasingly being integrated into all sectors of
The treaty still requires the approval of the Knesset,
Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association,
speaking on behalf of employers, said he felt privileged to be associated with
the project. There is a direct correlation between the economy and social
attitudes he said. Disability is just one facet of any person. “We have to open
our hearts and minds to the disabled for the betterment of society and the
Both Brosh and President Shimon Peres paid tribute to Dinur for
his commitment towards ensuring the rights and dignity of the
Avi Nitzenkorn, representing the Histadrut, also felt
privileged to be associated with the project, but had more reason than
Brosh. Nitzenkorn is the father of a special needs child.
to make employment for the disabled a norm within the framework of respect for
human dignity and equality for all,” he said, adding that employment of the
disabled was a form of social justice.
Aware that many laws are enacted
and many agreements are signed without any follow-up Nitzenkorn insisted: “We
not only have to sign this treaty – we have to implement
Wheelchair-bound Roni Shechter, speaking on behalf of the disabled,
recalled the three months of demonstrations and the campaign mounted by the
disabled outside the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry in 1999.
taken 12 years to come to this,” he said. He also praised Arie Zudkevitch, the
founding chairman of the Israeli Organization of the Disabled, who battled to
give special needs children the educational tools and training they needed so as
to be able to cope in later life and to make a contribution to the
Peres noted that everyone is born with some kind of
“No-one is perfect. We all lack some ability.”
this realization he observed, there should be a growing awareness of equal
rights, mutual responsibility and obligations to society.
For years, he
said, society has been playing with semantics to find the politically correct
expression for various disabilities. But a disability is not a label, a symbol
or a stamp, he said. The opposite is true. Disabled men and women, just like
anyone else want to express themselves, realize their potential and explore
their creativity so that they can contribute to the communities in which they
According to statistics there are 750,000 disabled people living in
Israel. Of these, less than 400,000 are employed.
“This is a very harsh
statistic and one that we must not allow ourselves to accept with complacency,”
The president also warned against harboring preconceived
notions about the disabled – notions that too often lead to humiliation and
rejection. Within this context he said that elementary concerns of people
with special needs, such as for instance access, are frequently
All sectors of society must become more conscious of integrating
the disabled, said Peres. “Everyone has the right to be different, but everyone
also has the right to be equal.”