NII Cuts Tutoring for 900 Disabled Students

National Insurance Institute: most students only use 20% to 25% of their tutoring hours at school; policy represents collective punishment, says director general of Aleh, an association for the blind.

The National Insurance Institute has slashed the hours it pays for tutors for hundreds of disabled university students.

Until new directives were issued recently by the NII, some 900 students had been entitled to 45 hours of tutoring per month. But from now on, they will receive tutoring for no more than 25 percent of their monthly classroom hours. For example, a student who has 80 classroom hours a month will be entitled to 20 hours monthly tutoring.

Blind and vision-impaired students, which constitute 250 out of the 900, have spoken out about how seriously the cut will affect their ability to study.

Yaakov Kadouri, who is working toward his B.A. in social work at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem says he utilizes his 45 tutoring hours every day and into the evening at the university's study center for the blind, making up what he cannot see in class.

"In classes where they write on the board, you simply have to learn everything again in tutoring sessions," he says.

In addition to tutoring, the blind are also entitled to 50 reading hours, which have not been cut by the new directive, because the readers do not have academic background in the student's field, and therefore are cheaper. A reader costs NIS 50 per hour, while a tutor costs between NIS 90 and NIS 120 per hour.

"We found that a small number of those who used all the hours used them for something other than their purpose," the NII said.

They gave the example of such uses as "being read to and for ongoing academic tasks, for preparing papers and searching for material in the library."

Moshe Oved, director general of Aleh, an association that runs centers for the blind at universities and employs tutors and readers for the NII, says the policy represents collective punishment.

"If somebody cheated, don't punish everyone," he said. "For tutoring hours to be cut, there must be a pertinent reason. In our case, the tutoring hours are essential."

Mohammed Abu-Ayish a B.A. student in business administration at the Hebrew University, says he uses all the tutoring hours but does not use the reading hours.

"I'm only studying math right now, and the readers are not in the field. So how can I get along only with reading hours," he asked.

The NII says that according to its findings, most of the students only use 20 percent to 25 percent of their tutoring hours at school, which is the extent for which the new directives have approved funding.

But Oved says there's no reason for the NII to slash the tutoring hours for those who need them because, "if students don't take advantage of the hours, the NII doesn't pay for them."

Budur Hassan, a blind student now completing her law degree at the Hebrew University, invited the policy-makers to walk in her shoes.

"You can't talk about full equality if you don't have equal opportunity at the start. I hope the clerks at the NII who say we don't need the hours will come and take a class blindfolded, and see how they manage," she said.