Equality for people with disabilities will create equality for all of us

The International Day for Equality for Persons with Disabilities, which falls on December 3, unfortunately finds Israel lagging behind.

Wheelchair (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Wheelchair (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
The International Day for Equality for Persons with Disabilities, which falls on December 3, unfortunately finds Israel lagging behind. Recently, the UN published the action plans submitted by 108 member states, which detail the manner in which each intends to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This convention, formulated in 2006, aimed to ensure that no person was excluded from society. Israel joined the convention in 2006 and officially ratified it in September 2012. The publication of the various action plans by the UN aimed to enable the member states that were party to the convention to exchange knowledge and share the mechanisms they intended to use to promote equality.
However, to date, seven years after its ratification, Israel has yet to publish its own action plan. Moreover, Israel does not have a comprehensive national plan to promote full equal rights for persons with disabilities.
Over the years, there has been extensive legislation defining Israel’s ethical philosophy regarding social equality for persons with disabilities. The Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law of 1998 constituted a change in Israel’s approach to the rights of persons with disabilities. The law marked a transition from a welfare and rehabilitation approach to an approach characterized by participation and inclusion.
Over the years, the regulations that have been added furthered and even enhanced the new approach, for example, regulations related to rendering buildings and services accessible, the obligation to consult with representatives of this population, as well as in the Law of Investigation and Testimony Procedures from 2005 (Adaptation for People with a Physical or Cognitive Disability).
The new approach, with a focus on equality, which is encapsulated in the law and in the aforementioned convention, is optimally articulated in the amendment to the Legal Competency and Guardianship Law, which presents a new and important social proclamation of a person’s right to autonomy over his or her life.
However, despite this important legislation, the gaps in Israel are still large. A research study conducted by the Brookdale Institute in 2018 indicates gaps between persons with and without disabilities in all fields – housing, education, social activity, etc. In addition, the trends are not encouraging.
After years of an increase in the rate of employment of people with disabilities, in recent years we have witnessed a reversal of this trend and an increase in unemployment among people with disabilities. This is despite an increase in the rates of employment among people without disabilities. Additionally, the salaries of people with disabilities are significantly lower than that of people without disabilities.
ALONGSIDE THE deepening gaps, public opinion is a central obstacle standing in the way of our creation of an equal society that respects all of its citizens. The survey of public opinions about people with intellectual disabilities published by AKIM in 2017, as part of the 5th Inclusion Index, indicated that 26% of the public believe that people with intellectual disabilities should live in frameworks that exclude them from community life.
Three months ago, I was privileged to assume the position of executive director of Beit Issie Shapiro, an organization that over the past 40 years has been engaged in the development and implementation of models, technologies and services to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities. Every day I witness just how much the recognition and acceptance of those who are different to ourselves advances us all, how much the technological era creates opportunities for us as a society and as individuals.
In many ways, the world is rapidly changing. If we wish, it is possible to create a rapid change in how we promote equality for persons with disabilities.
In order to establish an equal society here in a profound and substantial manner, we need an extensive national strategy designed to bring about a significant and quick change. Only in this manner can we reach the goal that we set for ourselves in 1998, and ratified in 2012, of creating a society that respects all of its citizens equally. Only a systematic, inter-ministerial outlook will lead to the necessary progress and social reform.
On the International Day for Equality for Persons with Disabilities, I call upon the government to create a five-year inter-ministerial strategy. It must create a plan of action that will address key goals nationwide, including changing attitudes, education our children, encouraging employment, and providing housing solutions for each and every person.
We need an organized plan defining these national priorities, measures of success, budgets, and schedules. The government should establish a steering committee to monitor the implementation of the plan and its goals. The national plan should be created together with people with disabilities, in order to facilitate an honest and well-informed dialogue of collaboration.
During this period of polarization in our society, a multidisciplinary focus on social reform for people with disabilities will promote a wide-sweeping and very necessary social change.
The writer is executive director of Beit Issie Shapiro.