The government is once again seeking to postpone its obligation to make its facilities accessible to people with disabilities, even though almost 20 percent of government buildings still aren’t in compliance with the law. The postponement is included in the Economic Arrangements Bill that accompanies the annual budget but which has yet to be passed by the Knesset. The delay is being sought by both local governments and national government ministries, including the Health Ministry.
Regulations requiring that all public buildings to be accessible to people with disabilities were enacted in 2011. They were to have been fully implemented by December 2018, but the government has extended the deadline twice. Now it is seeking a third postponement.
When legislation to allow the first postponement, until the end of 2019, was approved, it included a provision permitting another postponement until December 2020 if requested by the justice minister and approved by the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. Although the justice minister submitted such a request, the Knesset committee never approved it because inconclusive rounds of Knesset elections prevented it from convening.
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The government is obliged to make 1,330 buildings accessible to people with disabilities but has so far only completed work on 910 of them. The Finance Ministry expects another 154 to be made accessible by the end of this year, leaving 266 buildings in 88 separate towns out of compliance. Now the ministry wishes to delay the deadline by another year, until the end of 2022. It said the estimated cost of making the remaining buildings accessible would be 115 million shekels ($36 million).
The state has invested a lot of effort and resources in making buildings accessible in recent years, but due to various difficulties that have arisen, “mainly planning and legal ones,” more time is needed, the Finance Ministry said.
One reason the process still hasn’t been completed is that Israel hasn’t had an approved budget in years, one source said. In the absence of an approved budget, government spending is dictated by the last budget that passed – which in this case didn’t include extra funding for major construction projects. Another reason according to the source is that getting permits to alter buildings slated for historic preservation has proven difficult and compliance with preservation requirements has required large additional outlays.
The new legislation also seeks a four-year delay in the deadline for making all buildings built from 2009 onward, both public and private, accessible to people with disabilities, as well as a four-year delay in making public spaces such as parks, beaches and cemeteries accessible.
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To merit such a delay, however, local governments would have to meet certain requirements. For example, they would be required to publish a list of locations that have not been made accessible; to make 25 percent of them accessible each year; and to budget the following year’s work.
Finally, the Finance Ministry is seeking to postpone the deadline for making health care facilities accessible by three years, until the end of 2024. The Health Ministry said making health care services accessible to the entire public in accordance with the law is being done against the backdrop of constraints including the absence of necessary funding, unrealistic deadlines and unexpected circumstances.
As an example, the ministry cited the challenges faced by the health care system due to the coronavirus pandemic. In November 2020, just prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, the ministry noted, about 40 percent of community health care clinics were compliant with accessibility requirements.
“It’s simply inconceivable that for more than 10 years now, the state hasn’t managed to finish making government offices accessible,” said Yuval Wagner, president of the nonprofit group Access Israel. Accessibility, he added, “isn’t a perk; it’s an extremely basic need that would enable 1.5 million Israelis who are fated to live with disabilities to receive basic, essential services from government offices independently, conveniently and accessibly, as all other Israelis do.”
The Civil Service Commission said it has made several demands to ensure that the work would be completed as quickly as possible, including a request that the commission be given additional enforcement powers and authority to fine violators. While its demands did result in a shortening of the postponement period and the inclusion of arrangements to enhance transparency, “not all of our demands were met,” it added.