2020 – Israel is still leaving the people with disabilities behind

On the occasion of the International Day of People with Disabilities, Yuval Wagner, founder of Access Israel , in an article on the state of accessibility in Israel
Yuval Wagner, Founder and President, Access Israel
Yuval Wagner, Founder and President, Access Israel

By Yuval Wagner, Founder and President, Access Israel

I grew up with a disabled IDF veteran, confined to a wheelchair, when Israel was not accessible at all. Whenever we decided to leave the house, I was responsible for carrying the load.

It was only after a technical problem in my aircraft left me paralyzed from the neck down that I truly grasped the difficulty of living with a disability in an inaccessible environment.

I learned the meaning of house arrest on my own flesh.

Corona introduced all Israeli citizens to the meaning of house arrest, experiencing the tension between the desire to leave home to go shopping or go to work and between the fact that it was forbidden. They experienced, for just a moment, what the thousands of disabled individuals in Israel go through every day.

Over the last two decades I have been leading an accessibility revolution for people with disabilities through Access Israel. On the one hand, we have made great progress but, on the other hand, there is still a long road ahead.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is coming up and despite the fact that the day is observed every year, we still havent learned to plan ahead and in advance, not even for people with disabilities.

The State of Israel itself does not meet the accessibility timetables set forth by law, constantly extending its schedule as of 2018, all government offices and structures should be accessible, in practice, only 62% are.

In terms of health, the important regulations for providing accessible restrooms have not yet been passed, public transportation is far from being accessible nationwide and there are no binding regulations for transportation between cities among the mobility disabled. While everyone is talking about another election campaign, it is important to note that the campaign itself is not accessible to the sight impaired.

In Israel of late 2020, approximately 20% of the residents are disabled, one in five. Disability is a matter of fate; sometimes you are born with it and many age with it; some are injured in a car accident, work accident or in the military, and some cope with disease.

No one wants to live with disabilities, but it can happen to anyone, in any household and at any given moment.

Then Corona came along and taught us all how to readjust to a different reality. But it also introduced new accessibility issues mainly related to healthcare, education, employment and remote consumption. The masks that we wear make it difficult to communicate with the hearing impaired, video calls and services are not accessible to the sight and hearing impaired because they do not automatically come with subtitles and sign language. Children at a medical risk who must watch their health have no solution for home study, suffering from severe loneliness, and even the press conferences aired on television, are inaccessible to people suffering from hearing, sight, language and comprehension disabilities.

For 20 years, Israel has been taking significant strides, but it is and has been missing one thing along the way long-term thinking. When will we stop improvising the paradigm of retroactive accessibility, accessibility that engenders social gaps and costs a great deal of money? When will the state of Israel ensure that every activity, plan, project and initiative is examined in advance from the perspective of people with disabilities?

Looking forward, the Startup Nation is going to be based on technological services. The writing is already on the wall and it is clear that whatever is done, in any field, will be technology based in smart homes, smart cities, commerce, education, transportation, academia and culture.

Access Israel is currently leading a national initiative based on its vast experience, locally and international, and it aims to transform Israel, in advance, to a country that is technologically accessible to all kinds of disabilities. The goal is to aim huge social gaps in the digital future and avoid repeating the historical mistake and paradigm of introducing retroactive accessibility. No more remembering in hindsight, we must be taken into consideration in all fields and every decision, starting now.

The idea is to establish an international Israeli ecosystem for developing accessibility technologies that will enable people with disabilities to use autonomous transportation, receive remote commerce, health and education services, communicate with robots, voice activate the elevator, work from home and more. The association is working today to make the future accessible tomorrow, striving for the future to improve the lives of people with disabilities and not impair them.

In 2020, we learned that there is much to be done to make Israel accessible to people with disabilities, especially in this age where life is changing at a whirlwind pace.

The test is whether we will learn from experience and start planning for the long term.

Looking ahead to 2021, its time for large organizations and systems to consider the world of accessibility and consider it on a business and social level, so that it becomes an integral part of their DNA.

Because, together, we will make Israel accessible

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