Disability groups decry exclusion from ceremonies

Thousands of people with disabilities will be shut out of public Remembrance Day ceremonies because of inaccessibility.

Disabled person with wheelchair (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Disabled person with wheelchair
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As the nation gears up to collectively mourn its dead, for citizens with various disabilities, national Remembrance Day is a double tragedy.
“Not only are we mourning along with everyone else for those who have been killed, but we are also mourning the fact that we cannot properly pay our respects to those who have died or show solidarity with their families,” commented Shlomo (Momo) Nekava, chairman of the Organization for Disability Rights, who on Tuesday night and Wednesday will be among thousands of people with disabilities shut out of public ceremonies because of inaccessibility issues.
“It hurts,” he told The Jerusalem Post Monday. “We can’t get to the ceremonies like everyone else, and we stand alone remembering the country’s heroes.
“Every year we say the same thing,” continued Nekava, a polio survivor who is confined to a wheelchair. “It’s surprising that Prime Minister [Binyamin Netanyahu] shows no understanding of this problem. He was a fighter in the army, he knows what it’s like. He should be giving the order that cemeteries and ceremonies be made accessible so that everyone can join in.”
According to Nekava and other members of the country’s disabled community, including many disabled IDF veterans, packed Remembrance Day ceremonies and crowded war cemeteries are simply not accessible to those who are in wheelchairs or face other disabilities.
“People with disabilities find themselves alone at home rather than participating in a ceremony on Remembrance Day,” commented Yuval Wagner, director and founder of Access Israel, a non-profit group that lobbies for better accessibility for people with disabilities.
He emphasized that excluding these people because of physical barriers was discriminatory, and he pointed out that those planning such ceremonies could take simple steps that would change the situation, allowing people with disabilities “equal opportunities to participate.”
“There have been some improvements in recent years,” continued Wagner, himself a disabled army veteran.
“Official ceremonies overseen by the Defense Ministry and the IDF’s educational department have taken steps to include people in wheelchairs, and this year will even provide audio tools to those who are hard of hearing.”
However, he added that ceremonies on many army bases, and those by municipalities or at educational institutions, did not consider the multiple needs of people with disabilities.
“This year, we sent out a seven-step guide to improving accessibility for people with disabilities to all municipalities and local authorities,” he said.
“Unfortunately we only received one response, and even though they said they would implement our steps, we did not see that they advertised it anywhere. It’s not enough to be accessible if, at the end of the day, you do not tell people that there is accessible parking for them or toilets or specially reserved seating.”
Wagner, a former IDF pilot who was left paraplegic after crashing during a training exercise, said he would have the privilege of attending a ceremony on Tuesday evening at his former base. But, he added, most army bases are not accessible to people in wheelchairs, and that has to change.
“I am lucky because I will get to participate in a ceremony on my army base, but many people will not be able to do the same,” he said, adding that he already had plans to lobby the army to address the problem ahead of next year.
In its seven-point accessibility plan, Access Israel places an emphasis on increasing disabled parking spots close to where ceremonies are taking place, adding more ramps and accessible pathways in cemeteries, offering audio tools for the hard of hearing, providing sign language translators, having reserved seating for those with disabilities, delineating special spots to place wheelchairs and having volunteers on hand to assist those who need help.
“We believe that these steps are simple and easy to implement,” said Wagner.
“If they are done, then we will be able to create a situation that will allow people with disabilities to participate equally and comfortably.”