Every year on December 3rd we mark the International Day of People with Disabilities – and each year I ask myself what we managed to change in this area, and how we can deal with the fact that the area of disabilities is not perceived as “attractive” enough in the social and philanthropic world.
To be honest, sometimes we have the feeling that our pace of progress is not fast enough and that we have a long way ahead of us. But at the same time, we also feel great satisfaction and understand that we are on the right track. I have been asked many times why we chose the area of disabilities, and my answer is that this area relates to every one of us, either directly or indirectly. This is an area that transcends age, gender, nationality and socio-economic status. There aren’t many areas that are as relevant to our personal lives and professional world.
So what are we talking about? 20% of Israel’s population is people with disabilities, out of which about 800,000 to 1,000,000 are in the working age. This is the largest minority in our society and yet we don’t perceive it as an issue that relates to all of us, one that affects all populations in all aspects of life. After all, it is quite obvious that whatever benefits a person with disabilities will benefit everyone, whether it is teaching methods, accessible parks, diverse employment, technological developments and many other issues.
We the philanthropists have the capacity and the opportunity to make Israeli society a better, more equal and just society. We have the power to change the discourse, bridge between the sectors, improve processes, join hands, and create a reality in which integration is not a project for people with disabilities, but a way of life and an ideology. Each and every one of us chooses the areas in which he wishes to focus, while making strategic moves and actions to reach our goals. We work to narrow the gaps and to promote sidelined groups including Arabs, Haredis, Women, Ethiopian Israelis and those from the socio-geographic periphery. I have no doubt that all these causes are worthy and important. That being said, I must emphasize that in any target group that one chooses, about 20% are children, women and men with disabilities. Therefore, each person has the obligation to wear the “inclusion glasses” and see it as part of his agenda. I will conclude by mentioning some of the wonderful achievements and major progress that we have made in the area of inclusion in recent years. These changes were made possible thanks to the hard, devoted and longstanding work of all our partners in the government, private sector, third sector and philanthropic organizations.
The people of Israel can be proud of the fact that their country is one of 160 countries that signed the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. In the employment area, there has been a major change thanks to the extension order to promote the employment of people with disabilities, according to which each organization with over 100 employees must employ people with disabilities totaling at least 3% of its employees. The implementation of this extension order will significantly increase the chances for qualitative integration in the workforce by people with disabilities. Thankfully, we are also witnessing a breakthrough in the area of housing: in the upcoming year 1,200 people with disabilities will begin an integration process in community housing.
Although we still have a long way, each achievement and every progress made brings hope and gives us the strength to continue our efforts to establish a more just and inclusive society. I believe the way to promote significant change is by joining hands and collaborating with each other – as it is said in the spirit of Chanukah: each one of us is a small light, and together we are a strong light.