Statistics show apathy in Israel towards people with disabilities

Although there has been a significant improvement in attitudes towards people with disabilities, the statistics presented by Oren Helman's Sikuy Shaveh (Equal Chance) were troubling.

Israeli citizens with disabilities renew their protest to receive improved benefits. (photo credit: DISABLED BECOMING PANTHERS (COURTESY))
Israeli citizens with disabilities renew their protest to receive improved benefits.
It was one of those strange coincidences, straight out of a Hollywood movie. Less than two hours after his meeting with Guatemalan president-elect Alejandro Giammattei, President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday welcomed a delegation from Sikuy Shaveh (Equal Chance), which can also be translated as a worthwhile risk.
A voluntary organization founded five years ago by Oren Helman, a senior vice president at the Israel Electric Corporation and the father of a special needs daughter, Sikuy Shaveh campaigns for people with disabilities to be integrated into the work force and into social circles.
Rivlin has a particular empathy for people with disabilities. His late wife, Nechama, suffered from a respiratory disability, and during his long years in the Knesset he worked with people with physical disabilities.
As it happens, Giammattei also has a physical disability and walks with the aid of Canadian Crutches.
The moral of the story is that if a disabled person can be the president of a country – as was former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt who, despite being crippled by polio as a child, was elected four times and served his country for 12 years, dying in the 83rd day of his fourth term – then no disabled person capable of working should be disqualified.
Nechama Rivlin used to say that everyone has a disability of some kind, but not all disabilities are obvious.
Although there has been a significant improvement in attitudes towards people with disabilities, the statistics presented by Helman were troubling.
Nearly 10% of Israel’s population has a diagnosed disability, he said.
Yet, even though it is commonplace to see physically disabled people on public transport or in the street, sometimes in wheelchairs, 89% of parents would not want their children to be in the same classroom or to share other activities with children with disabilities. Quoting from a survey that he did not specify, Helman said that 48% of respondents would not live near people with mental disabilities or autism, and 61% would not rent an apartment to them. More than 40% of young people try to avoid contact with members of their peer generation who have disabilities, and 67% of people surveyed would not enter an eatery in which people with mental illnesses were employed.
One of the most horrific statistics indicated that a relatively high percentage of the population would disenfranchise people with special needs: 37% of respondents would deny them the right to vote.
Rivlin appeared to be astounded by this data, while acknowledging that the situation had been far worse in the past. He said that several people with disabilities had been employed at the President’s Residence, and that they had done their work well.
IT HAS BECOME increasingly apparent, he continued, that those people with disabilities who are able to work should be allowed to work at what they are able to do.
“Everyone can be useful somewhere and should not be made to feel like a social outcast,” said Rivlin. “They should be given every opportunity to realize their potential, and they should be treated with respect.”
He also mentioned the importance of accessibility to buildings for people with special needs.
All state companies should employ people with disabilities, Rivlin said.
“What sort of a society would we be if we didn’t care for the weaker elements?” he asked.
Helman suggested the enactment of a law to this effect.
Rivlin praised the Israel Electric Corporation for its large intake of people with disabilities. One such person is wheelchair-bound lawyer Vladi Gur Arye, a graduate of the University of Haifa.
These days, everyone is talking about political unity, Gur Arye said, but he was more inclined to talk about social unity. He was angry that more than 80% of people don’t want their children to study in the same class as children with disabilities.
“I’m not half a lawyer,” he declared. “I’m even better than some of the able-bodied people.”
Gur Arye insisted that it was imperative to get rid the social stigma to which people with disabilities are subjected.
This should be done without the need for protest demonstrations, he said. He pointed out that people with disabilities can work in banks and other financial service industries.
Amir Shutzman, CEO of Tamam Aircraft Food Industries, said that seven years ago, he had been approached by a couple who wanted to pay him to employ their 21-year-old daughter, who had a disability and had been rejected by one potential employer after another.
She was simply tired of sitting home and doing nothing.
Shutzman told the parents that they didn’t need to pay for her to be employed. He asked to meet her and promised that if he found something suitable for her, he would give her a job. She is highly motivated and has proved to be a terrific worker, he said.
Moreover, since then, he had made sure that people with disabilities represent at least 10% of his work force.