One quarter of small-to-medium sized Israeli companies would not consider hiring someone with even a minor disability, and the majority of local employers do not have a single disabled person on their payroll, according to a new study published Sunday by the Commission for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities, which operates under the auspices of the Justice Ministry. The study, the first of its kind to be conducted in Israel, used a sample of 400 local employers in the free market and found that 85 percent of businesses do not currently employ any disabled people, with 25% of those questioned saying that they had no interest in hiring such a person in the future. Thirty-nine percent of the employers said they did not believe that employing a person with disabilities would significantly add value to the workplace. The results of the survey were released to coincide with International Day of Disabled Persons, which is being marked worldwide on Monday. The survey is an addendum to the commission's annual report, also released Sunday, on the Status of People with Disabilities in Israel, which is based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics. "The state of Israel has to do serious work in addressing this subject," commented Commissioner for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities Dr. Dina Feldman, who authored the report with Dr. Eliyahu Ben-Moshe. "We have to find a way to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities, allowing them to escape the poverty cycle and dependence on state benefits." Feldman pointed to more statistics that showed how the economic status of Israel's disabled has steadily fallen in recent years, with one-third of the country's million disabled living in poverty and less than 40% of them actively employed. The report also highlighted a recent ranking from the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD), which placed Israel last on a list of the economic levels of Western countries' disabled. "The fact that Israel came in last after all the Western countries was very shocking," said Feldman, adding that she hoped the report would act as a guide to all government ministries to work to improve the situation next year. Along with the initial data, the employment survey also found that 53% of those who currently employ a person with disabilities said they would not consider taking on another such person, and 36% of those questioned agreed with the notion that hiring a disabled person would interfere with the flow of their business. Employers were also asked what factors might make them consider hiring a disabled person. The two main points raised were the establishment of legislation to protect employers if they decided to fire a disabled person based on their performance and not on their physical or mental condition, and financial support from the government to accommodate any necessary physical changes to the work place, such as special computers or access ramps. "This survey is a very positive starting point, because [challenging stigmas] starts with raising awareness," said Yuval Wagner, director and founder of the nonprofit organization Access Israel. He said that he was not discouraged by the findings and that he had already seen positive moves in certain sectors, such as hi-tech. "I believe that many companies are actually [interested in] hiring people with disabilities, but don't know where to start looking for such people," countered Wagner. In fact, 43% of those who said they would be willing to hire a disabled person said that they did not know where to find such people, the commission's survey found. Wagner said that his organization, together with one of the nation's large hi-tech companies, was currently building a Web site offering positions for the disabled, due to go live in the next few months. Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1982, the International Day of Disabled Persons aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.