Nechama Rivlin: Integrate people with disabilities into your workforces

The first lady says that one of the biggest difficulties for those with a disability is coping with society's attitude toward them..

Ambassador Matthew Gould, his wife Celia and their daughters, with young people from AKIM Givatayim who came to help decorate their succa. (photo credit: COURTESY BRITISH EMBASSY)
Ambassador Matthew Gould, his wife Celia and their daughters, with young people from AKIM Givatayim who came to help decorate their succa.
First lady Nechama Rivlin on Sunday called on employers to integrate people with intellectual and physical disabilities into their work forces.
Rivlin was speaking at the President’s Residence to some 200 Akim activists, parents and intellectually challenged children. This was her first solo activity in her capacity as first lady.
Akim – The National Organization for Habilitation of Children and Adults with Intellectual Disabilities presented Rivlin with the organization’s third index of Israeli society’s attitude toward the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
“We all have disabilities of some kind,” she said, admitting to her own, which is a breathing problem that requires her to constantly have an oxygen tank close by.
Some 18.5 percent of Israelis believe that a person with mental disabilities is dangerous to society, an improvement from 31.2% the previous year and 25.5% two years ago, according to the report.
Overall, the study revealed an improvement in attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities.
As such, some 30% of the public believes that a person with mental disabilities should live in a separate framework, compared to 43% the previous year.
And 13.7% of the population said they would not want to live next door to a disabled person, down from 18.8% last year. Some 8.3% of Israelis said that they would feel tense in the presence of a person with intellectual disabilities, compared to 13.8% last year.
In addition, 9.5% of the population said they would distance themselves or avoid meeting a person with intellectual disabilities, compared to 18.1% last year.
A vast majority of the public, 96.4%, supports the engagement of the mentally handicapped in extracurricular activities in community centers.
Despite the improvements, several worrisome statistics were presented.
While 93.8% of the population believes that an intellectually disabled person can get married and have sexual relations, nearly a third of Israelis, 32.4%, believe that this population group should not have the right to bear or raise children.
Furthermore, 24% believe that intellectually disabled people should not be allowed to make their own decisions about medical treatment and 20% believe that the mentally handicapped should not be allowed to vote.
Four mentally challenged young women spoke at the event, sharing their life stories. Lital Ravosky, who realized her dream to become a model, Riki Mamir, who is a kindergarten assistant, Reut Cohen, who was accepted into the IDF and following her discharge was taken back as a civilian employee, and Sarit Rokeach, an athlete who has represented Israel in international competition, presented their personal stories.
Rivlin said that she couldn’t compete with them in doing most of the things that they do.
The difficulty for people with disabilities is not so much in coping with the disability itself, she said, but with the attitude of society, which she remembered used to be much more negative than it is today.
She credited the change to the work of Akim.
Akim’s CEO Sigal Peretz Yahalomi and chairman Ami Ayalon urged society to look at the person and not the disability and to always bear in mind that what is most important is the dignity of the human being regardless of color, creed, gender or nationality.
Alluding to recent incidents of violence in the country, Ayalon was particularly appreciative of the efforts made by Arab parents to come to the event with their children. “I know it was not easy for you,” he said.
Peretz Yahalomi said that although there is significant improvement in attitudes with regard to dignity, freedom and equal rights, there are still too many people who believe that those with mental disabilities are dangerous, should be isolated from society and placed in institutions, and should be denied voting rights.
“We’ve come a long way, but the journey is still long,” she said.