By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
MKs were offered a rare insight Tuesday into the challenges facing disabled Israelis when Access Israel co-sponsored an event that included both a discussion as well as activities designed to raise awareness regarding accessibility.
In what the organization described as a "unique experience initiative," MKs were encouraged to attempt to navigate a wheelchair ramp, shoot a basket from a wheelchair, take a stroll guided by seeing-eye dogs, taste wines and ice-cream while blind.
"We hope that the experience, in which everyone can try to cope with a disability, reinforces in the clearest way possible the restrictions that a person with disabilities encounters," the organization said.
"We hope that the experience will encourage MKs to advance legislation for people with disabilities."
The event was organized as part of the governmental initiative to mark International Disabilities Day, which will be marked worldwide on Thursday. AI worked together with the Knesset Lobby for People with Disabilities, chaired by MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) in bringing the event to the Knesset.
Access Israel said that "lack of accessibility in many places causes great suffering for 720,000 Israelis with disabilities and their families, and frequently prevents them from leaving their houses and taking part in society as citizens with equal rights in a democratic state."
On Tuesday, the Commission for Equal Rights for People with Disabilities published its annual report on the state of the disabled in Israel. It noted that there are more than 1.5 million Israelis who have a form of disability. Over half of disabled people are women, and overall, disabled Israelis earn much lower salaries than the non-disabled. The report noted that despite recent attempts at corrective legislation, the gap between disabled and non disabled has barely changed.
Among the Knesset committees that examined facets of the challenges facing Israelis with disabilities was the Immigration and Absorption Committee, which examined the phenomenon of hearing impairment among immigrants.
Committee Chairwoman Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu) noted that the Organization for the Deaf in Israel's data indicated that there are approximately 3,000 hearing-impaired immigrants who need special services due to the dual challenge of absorption and integration with the hearing community. Moreover, hearing-impaired immigrants constitute 30% of the overall hearing-impaired public.
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