People with intellectual disabilities are often characterized as weak and requiring protection in Israeli media, the 2022 Inclusion Index conducted by AKIM Israel has found.
Since 2013, AKIM Israel (The National Organization for People with Intellectual Disabilities and their Families) has conducted an annual study examining the attitudes of the Israeli public towards people with intellectual disabilities, as well as their integration into the fabric of Israeli society.
The 2022 report finds that 40% of all current Israeli articles and media items that relate to people with intellectual disabilities are linked to victimization, including cases of violence and abuse. In contrast, only 21% of all references relate to inclusion and integration in society.
However, in contrast to what is presented by the media, the research showed that over 80% of the Israeli public believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be able to live their lives integrated into the wider community. This shows a significant increase in comparison to a 2014 study which indicated that only 42% of respondents thought that people with intellectual disabilities should live in their communities as opposed to in sheltered institutions.
Other areas of the research also show improved attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities in comparison to earlier years. While today in Israel, only 1% of people believe that intellectually disabled people are a risk to themselves and to others, back in 2013, 25% of all respondents believed that this was the case.
However, AKIM's research also showed that there is still room for improvement in multiple areas. For example, only 27% of articles on the topic of intellectual disabilities focused on capabilities, rather than limitations. In 40% of all references, intellectually disabled people were presented in the context of weakness and victimization. The references included cases of violence, difficulties, medical discourse and research, treatments, tests before and during pregnancy and more.
Furthermore, in 86% of cases, these media items did not speak to, or take quotes from, people with intellectual disabilities, and focused on speaking about them rather than to them. In 20% of cases, the items included statements made by family members.
AKIM also pointed to issues when it comes to the way that intellectually disabled people are referred to in the media. The research shows that the term "person in need of protection" appears 50 times more than the term "people with intellectual disabilities," implying that intellectual disabilities make a person weak.
More urgent, even, was the fact that 17% of Israeli media items still used the outdated and largely obsolete term "mental retardation," when discussing intellectual disability.
"According to our assessment, the significant change in public attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities and their right to live in the community stems mainly from the implementation of inclusion policy and the increased presence of people with disabilities throughout society," said AKIM Israel CEO Sigal Peretz Yahalomi.
"It is now common to meet people with disabilities in the neighborhood (living in community residences), while serving the IDF, at the workplace, in schools and during leisure activities. The media coverage of currentm affairs, as revealed in the study, does not sufficiently reflect this phenomenon, nonetheless the changing reality of increased visibility of people with disabilities within the public sphere has a major effect on the attitudes among the general public."
AKIM's report was presented to President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday by the organization's chairman Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Lau and CEO Yahalomi, together with participants in the research and their familes.
When it comes to those who participated in the research, many of them self-advocatess for their rights as people with intellectual disabilities, the work done by AKIM to highlight their success stories in the media is not taken for granted.
"I find stories about the successes of people with intellectual disabilities personally empowering," comments Oshrat Madelsi on the subject. "It is possible to make dreams come true regardless of whether someone does or does not have a disability”.
AKIM is the largest organization in Israel providing representation and improving the welfare of 35,000 people with intellectual disabilities and their families spread across 67 branches throughout Israel in both the Jewish and Arab sectors.
They do this by way of advocating and offering solutions in hundreds of frameworks in spheres such as education, housing, employment, culture and leisure, military service, dental care and more.
"I am capable of doing many things," says 34-year-old Ortal Toledo about the report, "and this (hearing about other people’s achievements) gives me strength."