A narrow majority of Israelis — 52 percent — would prefer not to meet people who are mentally disabled, according to survey released by a leading Israeli organization that advocates for the intellectually challenged.
In addition, 40% of those interviewed said that they would not want to be the neighbors of a mentally disabled person, and some 25% said they would not want to work in the same room as such a person, or even receive service in a coffee house from one.
The survey, which was published on Wednesday by AKIM, the National Association for the Habilitation of Children and Adults with Intellectual Disabilities, was based on a sample of 605 people and was conducted in conjunction with the the B.I. and Lucille Cohen Institute for Public Opinion Research of Tel Aviv University.
Some 25% of the people interviewed believe that mentally disabled people could be dangerous, and 31% said they should be kept separate from the general population.
Beyond complete separation, many of the people interviewed believe that some of the rights enjoyed by most Israelis should not be granted to the mentally disabled. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they should not be allowed to vote, 15% believe they should not be allowed to marry, and 28% said they should be prevented from having sexual relations.
Israeli law not only allows the intellectually disabled adults to vote, but also permits them to have a companion with them in the booth when they cast their ballot.
Sigal Peretz Yahalomi, the director-general of AKIM, explained that, in Israel, the classification of a person as mentally disabled is done by a Welfare Ministry expert committee.
The definition includes those with an IQ of less than 70, she said.
According the to AKIM website, there are currently some 12,000 children and 22,000 adults in Israel who are mentally disbaled.
Yahalomi attributed the survey results more to ignorance than to blind hatred, saying that the majority of Israelis don’t know people with disabilities. Her assessment is shored up by the fact that more than two-thirds of the people surveyed said that they would not know how to respond, in a conversation, to a person who was mentally disabled, while 48% admitted that during such an encounter, they would not know what was expected of them.
Yahalomi added that, in her experience, “these negative feelings end as soon as people get to know the disabled. This is the way to break through and tear down the walls of prejudice. An inclusive society is a prosperous society. We demand that these people be an inseparable part of society.”
AKIM services include kindergartens and nurseries, after-school activities, group homes, vocational training, recreational programs and special holidays for adults, as well as support and education for parents. The group also runs an advocacy program for the rights of the intellectually disabled.
AKIM chairman Ami Ayalon submitted the report to President Shimon Peres, who called on all Israelis “to help those with disabilities.”
“In doing so, you make Israel more beautiful, more humane and more noble,” he said.