New treaty aims at employment for the disabled

‘Everyone has the right to be different, but everyone also has the right to be equal,’ says Peres.

A man in a wheelchair [Illustrative]. (photo credit: Carlos Jasso/Reuters)
A man in a wheelchair [Illustrative].
(photo credit: Carlos Jasso/Reuters)
Too often, they are sidelined to the fringes of society, but on Monday, people with disabilities were the guests of honor at the President’s Residence for the signing of a treaty, that at least on paper, will give them the same employment rights as able-bodied men and women.
The treaty is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and obligates organizations and institutions in both the private and public sectors to work through their inter-sector directorates to formulate policy for integrating persons with disabilities into the workforce, and to create conditions that enable them to maintain their dignity and to realize their career ambitions.
Many of those attending came in wheelchairs, on crutches or were aided by walking sticks.
Even so, they were not in the majority. Most of the people in the room were representatives of government ministries, social welfare institutions, the Histadrut labor federation, Chambers of Commerce and the Israel Manufacturers Association.
The underlying message was that the best way to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities is to focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t.
The message was more than obvious in the personality of perky and pretty moderator Bat El Papura, who is a radio announcer and actress. She also happens to be a dwarf, and while she acknowledged this puts her in the category of being limited in things she can do, she has still managed to do more or less what she wants.
One of the highlights of the event was a film made by members of Shekel, which provides employment outlets for persons with disabilities. The film was about four disabled people who have found employment simply because their abilities rather than their disabilities were recognized by their employers.
One who is blind and partially deaf is a computer whiz. Another who dismantles electronic equipment said he wished his father was alive to see how well he is doing. Another who used to work for Teva and was disabled by a work accident, which put him out of action for more than two years, said that before the accident he was in high demand wherever he went and could virtually name his own job. After the accident he was treated as a second-class citizen and had great difficulty in finding work. He finally got a job though, and slowly regained his self esteem.
The fourth person was a mentally challenged woman who does cleaning chores in a food outlet. She loves what she’s doing and she’s good at it. She said she also earns well. Her employer said she realized a long time ago that the woman’s comprehension is far better than is generally estimated. She understands everything she is asked to do, in light of which she was given more difficult tasks and carried them out with ease.
The treaty is the outcome of an initiative promoted by Raanan Dinur, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during the Ehud Olmert administration. Dinur worked together with Eyal Gabai, former directorgeneral of the Prime Minister’s Office during the current administration and with Joint Distribution Committee director-general Arnon Mantver.
In March 2010, the forum of directors-general of government ministries approved the participation of the government in this process and agreed among themselves that people with disabilities should be given equal employment opportunities. The issue was then brought to the attention of the Justice Ministry, the business sector, the Histadrut, social welfare organizations and other entities.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, invoking Biblical record, said all human beings come from the same source and none should suffer discrimination on the grounds of being different or disabled.
Quoting Rashi, the religiously observant minister said one must not curse the weak.
Everyone has the basic right to work he said, adding he was pleased that all government ministries now employ people with disabilities and more people with disabilities are increasingly being integrated into all sectors of Israeli society.
The treaty still requires the approval of the Knesset, said Neeman.
Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association, speaking on behalf of employers, said he felt privileged to be associated with the project. There is a direct correlation between the economy and social attitudes he said. Disability is just one facet of any person. “We have to open our hearts and minds to the disabled for the betterment of society and the economy.”
Both Brosh and President Shimon Peres paid tribute to Dinur for his commitment towards ensuring the rights and dignity of the disabled.
Avi Nitzenkorn, representing the Histadrut, also felt privileged to be associated with the project, but had more reason than Brosh. Nitzenkorn is the father of a special needs child.
“We have to make employment for the disabled a norm within the framework of respect for human dignity and equality for all,” he said, adding that employment of the disabled was a form of social justice.
Aware that many laws are enacted and many agreements are signed without any follow-up Nitzenkorn insisted: “We not only have to sign this treaty – we have to implement it.”
Wheelchair-bound Roni Shechter, speaking on behalf of the disabled, recalled the three months of demonstrations and the campaign mounted by the disabled outside the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry in 1999.
“It’s taken 12 years to come to this,” he said. He also praised Arie Zudkevitch, the founding chairman of the Israeli Organization of the Disabled, who battled to give special needs children the educational tools and training they needed so as to be able to cope in later life and to make a contribution to the community.
Peres noted that everyone is born with some kind of disability.
“No-one is perfect. We all lack some ability.”
With this realization he observed, there should be a growing awareness of equal rights, mutual responsibility and obligations to society.
For years, he said, society has been playing with semantics to find the politically correct expression for various disabilities. But a disability is not a label, a symbol or a stamp, he said. The opposite is true. Disabled men and women, just like anyone else want to express themselves, realize their potential and explore their creativity so that they can contribute to the communities in which they live.
According to statistics there are 750,000 disabled people living in Israel. Of these, less than 400,000 are employed.
“This is a very harsh statistic and one that we must not allow ourselves to accept with complacency,” said Peres.
The president also warned against harboring preconceived notions about the disabled – notions that too often lead to humiliation and rejection. Within this context he said that elementary concerns of people with special needs, such as for instance access, are frequently ignored.
All sectors of society must become more conscious of integrating the disabled, said Peres. “Everyone has the right to be different, but everyone also has the right to be equal.”