50,000 disabled say they feel left out

Israel is less tolerant than Western states, study indicates.

wheelchair 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy [file])
wheelchair 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy [file])
Thousands of people with physical, mental or emotional disabilities not officially classified as such feel a high level of isolation within Israeli society, according to a first-of-its-kind study published this week. Some 16.7 percent of disabled Israelis, or roughly 50,000 people, are significantly disabled but either do not meet government criteria or simply chose not to apply for state benefits, according to the study, conducted by the University of Haifa's Prof. Arie Rimmerman, an expert in disability research and civil and social participation. He holds the Richard Crossman Chair for Social Welfare and Planning at the university. The researchers interviewed a representative sample of some 600 people with disabilities and 600 without, "This was a big surprise for us," Rimmerman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, adding that in the US the rate of non-recognized disabled was 12%. "This group has a higher participation in society than those who are recognized as disabled but they are much less involved socially than the general public," he said. The study also found that almost one-third of Israel's non-recognized disabled said they had not had any social visits in the last month and a large proportion felt like outsiders in society. Sixty percent are single and 40% do not work. "We always knew that compared to the rest of the Western world, Israel was less tolerant of the disabled, but this study really draws that out," Rimmerman said. "Not only are they not considered disabled and not entitled to any benefits, but they are also isolated by the rest of society." Part of the problem was that the "threshold for [determining] disabilities is quite high," he said. More than 250,000 people collected disability benefits either from the National Insurance Institute, the IDF or another official body last year. Together with the unrecognized disabled, the number of Israelis with disabilities could total more than 300,000. Asked why some people chose not to claim benefits even if they might fit the criteria, Rimmerman said this might be because the amounts were "so low." "Some of these people who do not claim benefits probably do fulfill the criteria but to apply and go through such a tortuous system to determine their disability levels for [roughly] NIS 2,000 a month is not worth it for them," he said. The study, which initially questioned 13,000 Israelis, was funded by the National Insurance Institute (70%) and the Richard Crossman Chair (30%). It will be officially released next week at the second annual Haifa University Conference on Social Responsibility.