'Legal victory highlights need for social change'

Haifa court win for people with disabilities underlines need for more awareness, activist says.

wheelchair 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
wheelchair 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post))
A legal victory for people with disabilities this week has highlighted the need for more awareness and social change, according to representatives of Bizchut, the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.
On Sunday, a Haifa District Court judge dismissed a case where a group of neighbors from Haifa’s Denya neighborhood had sought to prevent the opening of a group home for youths with various disabilities.
In his ruling on the case, Judge Yehoshua Ratner said that the goal of Israeli society was to encourage inclusion in the community for all people with disabilities. He reminded the plaintiffs that there are a wide range of laws and policies to change what has been the accepted norm until recently – to keep people with disabilities on the sidelines of society – and bring them into the mainstream.
“It is a welcome trend,” said the judge in his ruling. “It is part of enlightenment that people should look to embrace those who are different to them.” He also pointed out that community inclusion for people with disabilities is an important part of the treatment and rehabilitation process for them.
According the legal file, the complaint came from home owners on Abu Hushi Street in Haifa’s Denya neighborhood, after plans were drawn up to allow six young people with different disabilities – including eating disorders and other emotional issues – to rent one of the homes on the street.
Ratner pointed out that often when such homes are set to open, neighbors and other locals express concerns that are “natural and understandable.”
“This results from fear of the unknown or from those who are different,” wrote Ratner in his ruling, adding that people become concerned that such group homes might be a disruption to their routine, could be harmful to the image of the area where they live or could reduce the value of their property.
He referred to a trend coined in the US as “NIMBY,” or “not in my backyard,” where neighbors welcome the concept of community living for people with disabilities but refuse to accept those people in their own proximity.
In his conclusion, Ratner said that he could not prevent the group home from opening and he encouraged the two parties to undertake mediation, which he said would help to “alleviate fears from the plaintiffs on the one hand, and help the defendants to consider the needs of the plaintiffs on the other.”
“This is not the first case of this kind, where neighbors brought complaints against opening a group house and the court is often supportive of people with disabilities,” commented Naama Lerner, director of community outreach for Bizchut.
Lerner said, however, that while the law was on the side of people with disabilities, much more work needs to be done to help people understand and not fear the concept of community inclusion.
“We need to do more work with the government offices, such as the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, so that these type of cases do not reach the courts at all,” she pointed out, adding that programs should be created in society and in the education system to teach people not to fear people with disabilities.