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With Independence Day today in Canada and in the US upcoming, this is a good time to reflect upon the freedoms we enjoy and an opportunity to ask ourselves- who is unable to celebrate independence? For whom do the terms “equality and freedom” not apply?
According to the Israeli Ministry of Welfare, 12,500 people with developmental, mental or physical disabilities under the Ministry’s care live in closed institutions and hostels (not including elderly persons with disabilities that reside in geriatric institutions). The Ministry of Health also funds these closed institutions, by covering stays in psychiatric wards. This means thousands of people live out their lives in distant, neglected homes, far away from society.
There are currently 63 institutions for persons with developmental disabilities, some privately owned and some operated by the government. Many have been in operation for decades, remnants of a time when the “solution” for people with disabilities was to lock them up. This policy denies their basic human rights of autonomy, freedom of movement, privacy and human dignity.
The recent story of the horrific conditions at the Neve Yaakov institution, after complaints were lodged by our organization, are only one example of the daily struggle that thousands of Israelis find themselves in, with no hope of being listened to. These people never have the chance to celebrate; they have no independence year-round.
The Ruderman Family Foundation and Bizchut have launched a media campaign to pressure the Israeli Ministries of Health and Welfare to completely change their policies, to begin to shut down these institutions and gradually find homes within communities for the thousands who have been prevented from doing so. The slogan for this campaign, “A home in the community- the key to life,” best expresses what a just society should aspire to: The full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of daily life. Whether that means being able to take a stroll in a public park, see a movie or meet with friends- everyone has the right for self-fulfillment and to feel independent.
We demand a society that thrives upon its heterogeneity, as opposed to shutting out those who may seem different. No more separation and neglect. We look forward to the day when children won’t see those with disabilities as “different” but come to view them as just another person to interact with.
In many countries, especially Europe and North America, the last of these dark institutions are being shut down. Governments have passed laws against segregation and now work for the full inclusion of people with disabilities into the community.
Israel still has a long way to go. With a newly formed coalition here- including new Ministers of Welfare and Health- now is the time to take the necessary steps to right this wrong. These institutions need to be shut down, once and for all.
Esther Sivan is the CEO of Bizchut and Oren Ganor is Bizchut’s spokesman. Bizchut is the Israel human rights center for people with disabilities. Bizchut works to enable people with physical, intellectual, sensory, mental and learning disabilities to participate as fully and independently as possible in the life of the mainstream community.
Read our last post: Weaving a Tale of Inclusion
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