One of the great benefits – and occupational hazards– of championing a cause such as the inclusion of people with disabilities is that eventually one can end up in a bubble, surrounded by wonderful but like-minded people devoted to the same cause. That may partly explain why I was so shocked earlier this month to see the survey results reported in the Times of Israel article below.
To those of you familiar with Israel, I ask: do these statistics sound accurate to you? Is this really what most Israelis think? If so, why? Is this so different from the way the rest of the world thinks– or are these Israelis just being more honest?
Most importantly, what can we do about it?
How can we usher in a new era of tolerance, understanding, and compassion in relation to our neighbors with not only intellectual disabilities, but all kinds of disabilities? These are questions I ponder every day, and I invite you to help me better understand the attitudes and assumptions that stand in our way.
Half of Israelis don’t want anything to do with mentally disabled
Asher Zeiger, Times of Israel, January 3, 2013
A narrow majority of Israelis — 52 percent — would prefer not to meet people who are mentally disabled, according to a survey released by a leading Israeli organization that advocates for the intellectually challenged.
In addition, 40% of those interviewed said that they would not want to be the neighbors of a mentally disabled person, and some 25% said they would not want to work in the same room as such a person, or even receive service in a coffee house from one.
The survey, which was published on Wednesday by AKIM, the National Association for the Habilitation of Children and Adults with Intellectual Disabilities, was based on a sample of 605 people and was conducted in conjunction with the B.I. and Lucille Cohen Institute for Public Opinion Research of Tel Aviv University.
Some 25% of the people interviewed believe that mentally disabled people could be dangerous, and 31% said they should be kept separate from the general population.
Beyond complete separation, many of the people interviewed believe that some of the rights enjoyed by most Israelis should not be granted to the mentally disabled. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they should not be allowed to vote, 15% believe they should not be allowed to marry, and 28% said they should be prevented from having sexual relations.
Israeli law not only allows the intellectually disabled adults to vote, but also permits them to have a companion with them in the booth when they cast their ballot.
Sigal Peretz Yahalomi, the director-general of AKIM, explained that, in Israel, the classification of a person as mentally disabled is done by a Welfare Ministry expert committee. The definition includes those with an IQ of less than 70, she said.