Majority of Schools in Israel Remain Inaccessible to Disabled Students After Missed Deadline

The Education Ministry published regulations for basic accessibility years ago, but local governments say the time frame was unrealistic and the allocated funding was not enough

FILE Photo: Children play at a school in the southern area of Sha'ar Hanegev Regional School, Israel, August 19, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

The Education Ministry and local governments had eight years to make all the schools in Israel accessible to people with disabilities, but when the deadline passed last week it emerged that the goal is far from being met.

According to Education Ministry figures, which were only released after a request through the Freedom of Information Law, only 1,200 schools out of the 4,800 built since 2011 in Israel meet the basic standards for accessibility. Another 1,000 are accessible for specific disabled students, and funding has been approved for making another 1,700 accessible to basic standards.

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However, inquiries made by Haaretz found that less than a quarter of the schools have actually been made accessible.

The law on accessibility differentiates between the access to a specific school for an individual student or parent with a disability and the minimum level of accessibility required at all schools. The latter includes construction of an elevator shaft (so an elevator can be quickly installed if needed), handicapped toilets on the ground floor and an accessible route to both of these.

Although work on school accessibility was supposed to have started in 2007, two years after the law was passed, it was not until 2011 that the Education Ministry formulated the appropriate regulations. The final date for compliance with the regulations was May 1, 2019. The local authorities, which are responsible for implementing the law, could now be exposed to lawsuits.

For Maya Markovitz Balter, a resident of Ramle who uses a wheelchair, basic compliance is not enough. Her son, Maor, is in first grade and his school, which is only a few years old, is considered accessible, but the sidewalk leading to it is narrow and there is often no room for a wheelchair. “To pick up my son I have to arrive before everyone else because otherwise they’ll run me over,” she says. The municipal kindergarten Maor attended last year was not accessible at all. “There was a ramp but it was for strollers and not the right angle for a wheelchair. The intercom at the entrance was also too high," Markovitz Balter says. Her request to lower it was ignored.

The Justice Ministry’s Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that more than half of 150 schools sampled were not accessible. The local authorities say that the Education Ministry gives 110,000 shekels ($30,700) to every school to meet the accessibility standards, but the cost is three times that amount.

The commission said that even after the Education Ministry published the regulations, it did not include a timetable for their implementation, and added that the local authorities’ response to its order to submit accessibility plans has been “unsatisfactory.” The commission blames both the Education Ministry for not publishing a plan of action and the local governments for delaying implementation. The Federation of Local Authorities responded that the eight-year deadline ignored bureaucratic obstacles, and that the Education Ministry did not publish all the regulations at once and subsequently delayed transferring the earmarked funds.

The Education Ministry said that “funding was allocated in keeping with allocation of budgets transferred by the treasury,” and that “the work is the responsibility of the local authorities.”

Attorney Avivit Barkay-Aharonof of the Bizchut: The Israel Human Rights Center for People With Disabilities, which together with Hebrew University’s law clinic for persons with disabilities submitted the request for the figures from the Education Ministry, said: “The Education Ministry has failed miserably and thousands of schools are still not minimally accessible. It’s a shame that instead of seeing to it that every student can go to school, the Education Ministry is busy collecting bits and pieces of unclear information to prove its compliance with the law.”