Disabilities law: A major achievement for Israel - editorial

Yair Lapid: “The legislation will provide opportunities and rights for people with disabilities and will change their lives and the lives of their families.”

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Sunday's cabinet meeting, May 22, 2022.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Sunday's cabinet meeting, May 22, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

These have not been easy days for the government. Bouncing from one coalition crisis to another, it appears that opposing interests of the various parties have paralyzed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s hobbling team from being able to pass bills, enact change or implement the programs needed to keep the country move forward.

However, occasionally a ray of light emerges to illuminate not only the accomplishments of this government but to highlight those achievements that will benefit a sorely overlooked segment in Israeli society.

On Sunday, the cabinet approved a historic government bill that allocates some NIS 2 billion to integrating people with disabilities into society.

The bill, led by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen, will, according to Bennett, allow for “the transition to life in the community and for a range of new services including assistance by social workers, guidance in running a household, stenographic and translation services into sign language, and the list goes on.”

“This [law] will provide opportunities and rights for people with disabilities and will dramatically change their lives and the lives of their families,” he added.

“This [law] will provide opportunities and rights for people with disabilities and will dramatically change their lives and the lives of their families.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gestures at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 16, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gestures at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 16, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Just as important, the legislation – named the Welfare Bill for People with Disabilities – enshrines the rights of people with disabilities for the first time, Bennett noted.

At the core of the reform is the provision of services to people with developmental intellectual disabilities, people on the autism spectrum and people with hearing and vision impairments – in accordance with the UN Convention on Human Rights With Disabilities to which Israel is a signatory.

Clara Feldman, the CEO of SHEKEL – Inclusion for People with Disabilities, called the new legislation a big step forward.

“The bill is hugely significant and will unquestionably have an enormous impact on the lives of people with disabilities, allowing genuine access to high quality services and real opportunity for inclusion within Israeli society,” she said. 

“Of course, we are now waiting for it to be actualized and passed into law.... Obviously, there is still a way to go in terms of expanding the legislation to include additional categories of people with special needs that have not yet received sufficient attention, and in adapting and increasing it in various capacities.”

The government last week approved an amendment that will provide 100 new intercity buses with access for the disabled, which Bennett touted would enable them “to go to work, to their families, and to school.”

American disability activist Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said the legislation comes when there has been game-changing progress in assistive technologies that enable people who are deaf, blind, have mobility impairments or other disabilities to succeed in school and at work.

“However,” she said, “people with disabilities need to learn how to use these technologies and have access to them. Thus, while even more legislation is still needed, this law is also a major victory for all Israelis, as everyone will benefit from the talent of people with disabilities.”

Lapid's personal stake

For Lapid, the creation and approval of the legislation is very personal. He and his wife, Lihi, have raised an autistic daughter, Yael. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Lapid broke down in tears during the discussion of the bill, as he candidly described “the physical and emotional pain felt by parents, the fact that Yael can’t speak and tell her parents she loves them.”

“This is the most important thing you’ll ever do,” Lapid told his colleagues. “The legislation will provide opportunities and rights for people with disabilities and will change their lives and the lives of their families.”

The future of the government will likely remain precarious. It is unclear what it will be able to accomplish with an undisciplined coalition and a belligerent opposition that seems as if it would rather vote against a bill to subsidize academic scholarships for IDF combat fighters, lone soldiers and soldiers of lower socioeconomic status than support the bill and enable the Bennett government to declare another victory.

However, the disabilities law is a bona fide feather in the cap for this government, and more importantly, a huge boon for one of Israel’s most neglected sectors.