As 2020 winds down, Israel leaves people with disabilities behind

During the pandemic, able citizens experienced the same house arrest that the disabled face every day.

Approximately 20% of the population in Israel, one in five, is disabled as of late 2020. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Approximately 20% of the population in Israel, one in five, is disabled as of late 2020.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I grew up with a disabled IDF veteran father who was confined to a wheelchair when Israel was not accessible at all. Whenever we decided to leave the house, I was responsible for carrying the load.
It was only after my accident – due to a technical problem in my combat helicopter when I served as an Israel Air Force pilot that left me paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair – that I truly grasped the difficulty of living with a disability in an inaccessible environment.
I learned the meaning of “house arrest” on my own flesh.
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced all Israeli citizens to the meaning of house arrest, experiencing the tension between the desires to leave home to go shopping or to work and the fact that it was forbidden. They experienced, for just a moment, what people with disabilities, the biggest minority in the world, go through every day.
Over the last two decades, I have been leading an accessibility revolution for people with disabilities and their families through Access Israel. On the one hand, we have made great progress, but on the other hand, there is still a long road ahead for an accessible and inclusive Israel for all.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is coming up, and despite the fact that the day is observed every year, we still haven’t learned to plan ahead, not even for people with disabilities.
The State of Israel has failed to meet the accessibility timetables set forth by law, constantly extending its schedule. As of 2018, all government offices and structures were supposed to be accessible. In practice, only 62% are.
In terms of health, important regulations for providing accessible services have not yet been passed, and those that have been passed have often not been implemented. Public transportation is far from being accessible nationwide, and there are no binding regulations for transportation between cities for the mobility-disabled. While everyone is talking about another election campaign, it is important to note that the campaign itself is not accessible to those with visual disabilities.
Approximately 20% of the population in Israel, one in five, is disabled as of late 2020. Disability is a matter of fate: Some are born with it; some age with it; some are injured in a car or work accident or in the military, and some cope with disabilities from disease.
No one wants to live with disabilities, but it can happen to anyone, in any household and at any given moment.
When the coronavirus pandemic came along, it taught us all how to readjust to a different reality. It also introduced new accessibility issues, mainly related to healthcare, education, employment and remote or virtual activities. 
THE MASKS we wear make it difficult to communicate with the hearing-impaired. Video calls and services are not accessible to the sight- and hearing-impaired because the services do not automatically come with subtitles or sign language. Children with medical risks who must watch their health often have no access to home study, and far too many suffer from severe loneliness. Even many press conferences aired on television are inaccessible to people suffering from hearing, sight, language and comprehension disabilities.
For 20 years, Israel has been taking significant strides, but it is and has been missing one thing along the way: long-term thinking. When will we stop improvising retroactive accessibility, a paradigm that engenders social gaps and costs a great deal of money? When will the State of Israel ensure that every activity, plan, project and initiative is examined in advance from the perspective of accessibility for people with disabilities?
Looking forward, the Start-Up Nation will be increasingly based on technological services. The writing is already on the wall, and it is clear that whatever is done in every field will be technology based – in smart homes, smart cities, commerce, education, transportation, academia and culture.
Access Israel is currently leading a national initiative based on its vast experience, locally and internationally. The goal is to transform Israel, in advance, into a country that is technologically accessible to people with all kinds of disabilities, to avoid huge social gaps in the digital future and avoid repeating the historical mistake of introducing accessibility only retroactive, if at all. There must be no more remembering in hindsight. People with disabilities must be taken into consideration in all fields and with every decision, starting now.
The idea is to establish an international Israeli ecosystem for developing accessibility technologies that will enable people with disabilities to use autonomous transportation; receive remote commerce, health and education services; communicate with robots; voice-activate the elevator; work from home and more. Access Israel is working today to make Israel accessible tomorrow, striving to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
In 2020, we learned that there is much to be done to make Israel accessible to people with disabilities, especially in an age when life is changing at a whirlwind pace. The test is whether we will learn from experience and start planning for the long term.
Looking ahead to 2021, it’s time for large organizations and systems to consider the world of accessibility and consider it on a business and social level, so that it becomes an integral part of their DNA.
Together, we will make Israel accessible.
The writer is the founder and president of Access Israel. For more information, go to