Not all disabilities are visible, but everyone has at least one

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many medical services, including those for people with disabilities, have been put on hold.

President Reuven Rivlin visits disabled young adults. (photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin visits disabled young adults.
(photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
The late Nechama Rivlin would often say that everyone has a disability, but not all disabilities are visible. This, in fact, is the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Thursday, December 3.
It has been promoted by the United Nations since 1992 to advance global awareness, understanding and empathy and to remove the stigmas too often associated with both physical and mental disabilities.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than a billion people, or roughly 15% of the world’s population, live with some kind of disability.
Of these, some 450 million people live with a mental or a neurological disorder, and two-thirds of these people are unlikely to seek professional help for fear of the stigmas related to their various conditions.
There are also people who suffer chronic pain or fatigue, have vision or hearing impairments, cognitive dysfunction and a host of other disabilities that are not necessarily obvious – and certainly not visible.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many medical services, including those for people with disabilities, have been put on hold while doctors and nurses have focused on dealing with patients with coronavirus symptoms.
For this reason, spreading awareness and understanding has become much more important than in previous years.
With this in mind, President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday went to visit the Jerusalem branch of Beit Hagalgalim (the House of Wheels) to hear about a culinary initiative in which its wheelchair-bound hosts welcome people for meals.
A similar venture was started several years ago at Jaffa Port, where a blackout restaurant Na Laga’at (Please Touch) has blind and deaf waiters and waitresses who serve diners in the dark.
Beit Hagalgalim is a national organization for young people and adults with physical disabilities. It maintains six homes for people across the demographic spectrum who collectively have a broad range of disabilities. The main goal of the organization is to help young people and adults with disabilities gain self-confidence and self-worth, form friendships, become as independent as possible and to contribute to society to the best of their abilities.
At the Jerusalem branch located at Moshav Even Sapir on the outskirts of the capital, residents have been working on hosting groups of visitors for home-cooked meals. While doing so, they learn hospitality and cooking skills.
Escorted by two of the organization’s alumni, Tchelet Heyman and Lior Yagen, as well as Beit Hagalgalim CEO Yonatan Karni, Tami Krispin, who conceived of the initiative, and Dr. Pnina Schwartz Shor, the chairwoman of Beit Galgalim, Rivlin enthusiastically joined in the culinary preparations, bonding with the young chefs as he baked an orange cake according to the recipe of his late wife.
“Nechama would have been so happy with you today,” he said. “She believed that food could talk to the heart better than words. Nechama knew how to give from the heart, and where there were no words, food took their place.”
Heyman told Rivlin she reluctantly first came to Beit Hagalagalim when she was seven years old. She was told it was only for a weekend, and if she didn’t like it, she could go home and never come back.
“That was 10 years ago, and I’m still here,” she said. “I wanted to keep Beit Hagalgalim in my life, and I came back as a graduate to join this culinary program.”
The residents who are engaged in various projects form into groups. Heyman’s group was called Courage, which was almost prophetic. Last month, she found the courage to get married.
Having a disability does not mean that the person affected is totally incapable. Many young people with disabilities do national service either through the army or through the civilian National Service program.
Lior Yagen came back to Even Sapir to do his national service.
“We work very slowly, and they don’t always give us the work on time for fear that something will happen to us,” he said. “This place breaks personal stigmas,” he added.
For eight years before coming to Beit Hagalgalim, Yagen lived in a hostel where no one was allowed outside, and no one made any progress, he said.
Yagen began to show the first signs of progress when he moved from the hostel to an active creative community. From starting out as a student, he became a volunteer; after that, he insisted on volunteering for National Service.
Inspired by the approaching Hanukkah festival, whose various appellations include Festival of Lights, Rivlin said: “As the days get shorter and the nights longer, we search for points of light. Your home is a beacon of glittering, wonderful light during this dark and complicated period in which we find ourselves.
“The people of Beit Hagalgalim find it easier to integrate into adult life. This is a valuable gift, and I have no doubt that I will return home from this visit with a little more light in my heart.”
There is a vast difference between disabled people and people with disabilities. The former expression is pejorative and suggests that the person is unable to do anything. The latter acknowledges a limitation but does not suggest a total inability.