Israel to Model Disability Access Law After America’s

A youth in a wheelchair is pushed by Minister of Social Affairs Meir Cohen during a march with disabled Israelis in the city of Gadera, in 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)
A youth in a wheelchair is pushed by Minister of Social Affairs Meir Cohen during a march with disabled Israelis in the city of Gadera, in 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)

The Knesset Economics Committee will advance a new law that will require businesses in Israel to provide accommodations for patrons with disabilities, MKs said. Committee chairman MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Camp) said that the law was necessary in order to ensure that handicapped Israelis are able to receive the rights due to them.

According to the law, businesses will have to provide access, seating, lavatory, and other services in relative amounts to the number of disabled individuals the business usually handles. According to the committee, 20 percent of Israelis are disabled to the extent that they need special accommodations, such as access to stores or offices providing services. Of those, 80 percent are unaware that businesses are required to provide assistance in cases where specific access or other accommodations are not available. The new law, said the committee, will ensure access to all, regardless of whether or not they are aware of their rights.

The law would be modeled after similar laws in many jurisdictions in the United States, where there is often full access for disabled people. In testimony before the committee, 11-year-old Shira Cohen, who uses a wheelchair, described her experiences at a Tel Aviv amusement park. “It’s difficult to describe how demeaned people like me feel in Israel, compared to the situation abroad. While in America there is full access, here there isn’t even a sign warning that facilities are not available for the handicapped” – and the discovery that this is the case afterwards often turns out to be an embarrassing mistake, and an expensive one, considering the time and effort required to transport her to venues, she said.

Although general laws exist preventing discrimination against people with disabilities, and also require employers to make accommodations for the them – meaning that a lack of facilities cannot be used as an excuse not to hire someone – Cabel said that the regulations were generally not enforced, and were often not even clear. The new law, he said, will specify the steps businesses need to take to comply with regulations, both the existing and the new ones that will be implemented as a result of the new law.