Ayalon slams discrimination against mentally challenged

The disabled are always the first victims of society in every country, because people are so afraid of “the other,” says Ayalon.

AKIM fundraiser (photo credit: Jini)
AKIM fundraiser
(photo credit: Jini)
AKIM Israel chairman Ami Ayalon, a former commander in chief of the Israel Navy, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and MK, on Monday lambasted those sectors of society that try to keep the mentally disabled out of their neighborhoods and out of their schools.
Ayalon was speaking at Beit Hanassi at the launch of the annual AKIM fund-raising drive, which this year coincides with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the organization that cares for Israel’s intellectually challenged children and adults.
There are still those who do not want people with disabilities in their midst, and there is no law in force to ensure that the disabled can become fully integrated in regular schools, said Ayalon.
The disabled, he asserted, are always the first victims of society in every country, because people are so afraid of “the other” and do not recognize the fact that all human beings are created in the image of God.
“We have to look at the person and not at the disability,” he declared, stressing the need to get to know and understand the disabled so that first and foremost they can be looked on as human beings.
Addressing the AKIM parents, friends, volunteers and social workers, President Shimon Peres said they were a vital component in the Beautiful Israel that cares, does not become dispirited and knows how to transform dissatisfaction into a positive revolution.
“You have demonstrated humanity to those who were dealt an unkind blow by nature,” he said.
Israel without volunteers, volunteerism and mutual consideration would be a very poor country indeed, the president said.
What was being done for the beneficiaries of AKIM was not only a contribution to their well-being, but a contribution to society and its values, he said.
Peres told the intellectually challenged youth and adults in the hall that one day science would find a means of overcoming birth impediments. “No one must give up hope,” he said.
Meanwhile, he was encouraged by the fact that through AKIM, the intellectually challenged can rise to their full potential and live a relatively normal and enriched life.
AKIM Israel provides housing, day centers, sports, meals, leisure activities, therapeutic horseback riding, occupational therapy and jobs to people who were once pushed to the furthest peripheries of society. Three years ago, it reached an agreement with the IDF whereby young people who had been cared for by AKIM up till the age of 18 would be admitted to the army.
“When I go to the army, I feel like everyone else and I’ve got loads of friends,” asserted Amit Linder, who stood proudly in his IDF uniform.
Doron Eshel, who works as a waiter in a pizza parlor, said people who saw him at work thought that he was just like everyone else.
“They showed me friendship and respect and gave me a lot of self-confidence,” Eshel said.
Negra Shintazi, who lives in an AKIM hostel where each resident has his or her own studio apartment and is semi-independent, doing their own cooking and cleaning, said that “we sometimes argue, but we always finish with a smile.”
It was very important for the residents to be able to look after themselves, she said. “When I lived at home, my mother did everything for me. Now I do most things for myself.”