Here’s how to get unemployed Israelis with disabilities back to work

66% of Israeli workers with disabilities were either fired or laid off from their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic.

Disabled activists block the Azrieli Junction in Tel Aviv in May. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Disabled activists block the Azrieli Junction in Tel Aviv in May.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
This has been the news dominating headlines: The massive lockdown over the High Holy Days; The UAE - Israel peace deal, with the surprise bonus of a normalization agreement with Bahrain; The massive fire in Beirut, just weeks after a catastrophic blast rocked the city. It’s easy to see why a statistic about Israeli unemployment rates went largely unnoticed by the media last week. But this critical revelation is one that should matter to us.
Last Wednesday, the State Audit Committee announced that 66% of Israeli workers with disabilities were either fired or laid off from their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. That’s a rate four times higher than the general working population.
This staggering figure – two out of three workers with disabilities losing their jobs – should give us pause, especially considering that before the pandemic, just 57% of adult Israelis with disabilities worked. These numbers confirm what Israelis with disabilities have felt for years – that they are less valued by their bosses, less likely to be hired and more likely than non-disabled workers to lose their jobs during hard times.
MK Ofer Shelah acknowledged the disproportionate economic impact on Israelis with disabilities, saying, “The difficult data presented to the committee by the Equal Employment Rights Commission obligates us to devise a governmental emergency plan for their return to work as soon as possible.”
But it’s not just people with disabilities who have been hit hard by the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic. Since March 2020, 1.5 million Israelis have been fired or placed on unpaid leave from their jobs. The unemployment rate in the Jewish state reached a grim, all-time high of 27.5% in April.
In recent months, some Israelis returned to work, but many remain jobless. While Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and National Insurance Institute report differing numbers, there is a consensus that at least 700,000 Israelis are unemployed as of September 2020. This means that the job market is flooded with qualified candidates at the moment and employers can be as selective as they wish during the hiring process.
Considering widely held preconceived notions about people with disabilities and the enormous pool of potential candidates employers can choose from, I expect that people with disabilities will have a harder time getting back into employment than their non-disabled counterparts. With all due respect to Shelah’s undoubtedly good intentions, plans developed by various governmental committees, which may take months or years to come into effect, won’t be enough to get thousands of unemployed disabled Israelis back to work.
We urgently need to create a cultural shift amongst Israeli employers and companies around hiring people with disabilities. It starts by changing attitudes from the ground up. A widespread campaign highlighting the benefits of hiring workers with disabilities would be an excellent starting point.
A key point could be the loyalty and diligence of workers with disabilities. Numerous studies have shown that employees with disabilities have better attendance at work, take less sick days and days off, and are much more likely to stay at the same place of employment longer than workers without disabilities.
Employers also may not know that hiring workers with disabilities is good for their bottom line. The Social Services Ministry and National Insurance Institute provide various tax and financial benefits to employers who hire people with disabilities.
Perhaps publicizing these incentives – and possibly making them more lucrative – could provide an extra boost to push employers towards inclusive hiring.
Inaccurate notions about the skills of people with disabilities remain a huge stumbling block towards workplace inclusion. Some employers can’t imagine that a disabled person is the best candidate for the job.
But differently-abled people are perfectly capable of being excellent employees. Many have deep knowledge and technical know-how to contribute, along with their unique perspectives and experiences. Their enthusiasm and appreciation for their job can positively influence other employees in the workplace.
Additionally, an employee outside the norm, with a different set of life experiences, can bring a fresh perspective to the business and how it functions. We just need employers to give them a chance.
The writer is the founder and director of Alei Siach, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit providing all-inclusive solutions for people living with special needs and their families.