What ARE they thinking?


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.

–Jay Ruderman


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.


Filed under Disabilities Trends, In the Media, perceptions of disability

2 responses to “What ARE they thinking?

  1. sarah

    I live in Israel but my problem is that I’m in the same bubble–I interact with children, young adults, camp directors, social workers and others who have daily interaction with special needs children. These statistics don’t surprise me but I certainly don’t see it in public behavior in Jerusalem. I see mentally disabled young adults working and going on trips with the guidance of counselors, and I see no revulsion or pity on the faces of passers-by. Yet I know that it is challenging for special needs adults of all kinds to find employment. My son is doing National Service at the police department and would love to work there. They love him, they’re very kind and inclusive–and while he was invited to take the civil service test, a neighbor told me he didn’t have a snowball’s chance of getting hired because he is special needs. These statistics arise from a society that is badly educated about special needs, and a system (which was good for my son in high school) of schools where special needs children are schooled apart. Yet one needs to balance the benefits of special needs schools versus the benefits of inclusion. In mainstream US schools, he was bullied physically and verbally. He felt safe in the special needs schools in Israel. Israel is, in many ways, still in the 1950s and these responses indicate a level of ignorance that needs to be addressed through integration and education. Israelis are generally kind, especially to elders, children and people perceived as needing help–but kindness wouldn’t necessarily prevent the kind of horrific disenfranchisement suggested by the responses above because Israelis would justify it as “for their own good” or “for the greater good.”

  2. Jason Lieberman

    At the Beit Issie Shapiro international disability conference in Tel Aviv 6 years ago one of the speakers, I do not remember who stated “the biggest barrier facing people with disabilities is stigma.” When you combined that reality with the fact that Israeli culture always tries to project strength and fears even the perception of weakness it is unfortunately not surprising to me at all. In the US,there has ben much progress on public space so public schools, public buildings and public events are required to be accessible thus more people have seen and are comfortable around people with disabilities but it is almost impossible to find available private space such as housing and transportation which in much of the country relies on private cars that are accessible. In Israel, at least in my experience the the country does much better at making sure private needs are dealt with, as the culture puts a premium on helping those in need, but until the last few years, there has been little movement on public space. The numbers in the survey are similar to the numbers in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in the US when the laws and public discussions about people with disabilities were at a similar place in regards to attitudinal evaluation.

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