Disabled Israelis to Receive Better Community Housing Options

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Disabled demonstrators outside the Knesset on Oct. 25, 2010. Credit: Emil Salman

Three and a-half years ago, Israel adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires countries to recognize equality rights for the disabled in housing. Israel adopted the measure, but nothing changed.

This year, an extra 15 million shekels ($4 million) has been approved for the Social Affairs Ministry to increase the number of Israelis living in its community housing, sources have told Haaretz.

Nine hundred additional people will move to the community housing over the next three years, raising the total to 2,400. Residents will have the option to change their minds and return to their original institutions during the first six month.

Alongside the increase in community housing spots, the ministry is also reducing the number of institutions for the disabled.

While most disabled people are pleased with the ministry’s decision, they say it does not go far enough. Even after the project is completed, over 90 percent of Israelis with disabilities will still live in places considered insufficient.

And even if they can move to housing in the community, they will still be under the constant supervision of ministry staff — the main thing they would like to change.

Israel ratified the disabilities convention on September 28, 2012. Parties must “recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community.”

They are to be integrated into social, leisure and enrichment activities and enjoy all social services in the community, but they “are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement.” While Israel provides much of these services to the disabled, the freedom guaranteed in the convention is far from a reality.

Around 120 people with cognitive disabilities have launched a much broader battle: the right to independent living in the community. They demand legislation guaranteeing their right to live independently, to live with whom and where they want, and to live with the minimum possible intervention by the authorities.

This does not mean disabled people will be required to live in the community if they do not wish to, but the government would have to provide this option to them.

At a recent conference in Jerusalem, 150 activists met to increase awareness of their rights.

“I want to live alone or with my best friend, but today I live with 40 other people and I don’t like it,” said one woman at a session. Currently, many disabled people live not in apartments run by the Social Affairs Ministry, but in hostels where the number of residents can reach 65.

“More and more we are enabling residents to make decisions on their nutrition, employment and leisure hours; we see that it develops and inspires everyone,” said Sarah Sadovnik, the chief operating officer at Elwyn Israel, which operates 10 supportive living units in the community for the Social Affairs Ministry. “This has an influence on their families and staff too.”

In 2011, an international committee of experts was convened by Isaac Herzog, then the social affairs minister and now the opposition leader. The panel recommended new legislation on the right of people with cognitive disabilities to live in the community.

The committee also recommended the shuttering, within 10 years, of “various forms of residence in which more than four or six people with cognitive disabilities live.”

Five years later, a bill guaranteeing the right to live in the community in a residence with no more than four people is expected to reach the Knesset. The bill would give the disabled a chance to decide whether they wish to live in their own home, with their families, or in sheltered housing.

MKs Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) sponsored the legislation.

One success for the activists has been the amendment to the Guardianship Law passed by the Knesset this month. The legislation changes the default of appointing a guardian and sets alternatives including power of attorney for a person of the patient’s choice. Additionally, a guardian would help a disabled person make decisions, but would not make them alone.

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