Sasha Star
Sasha Star

Ableism is an Issue as Important as Climate Change

I remember one of the first times I travelled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

I had been visiting Israel with a friend — her first time; my third — and the capital was naturally a highlight on the bucket list that we had been looking forward to. So on that December morning in 2017, we made our way to HaShalom train station and prepared for the two-hour journey which lay ahead of us that included a train to Beit Shemesh, a 45-minute layover, and another train to Tel Aviv.

I know what you’re probably thinking: these were the days before the fast train. And you’d be right.

But if you’re wondering why I didn’t take the (much quicker) bus rather than the train, the reason is sadder.

While Israel makes a point of ensuring that buses which travel within cities are accessible for those with disabilities, the same is not true for buses that venture from one city to the other. As for why, your guess is as good as my wheelchair-using self.

I recall the ride to Beit Shemesh being smooth. Perhaps the longer route wouldn’t be so bad after all — I had cousins who lived in the city and they were happy to meet us at the train station for a quick coffee before we continued on to Tel Aviv. It was an excellent plan. If only the elevator that takes one from the train tracks up to the station had actually been working…

In retrospect, I’m just lucky that Beit Shemesh was not our final stop.

When Israeli Energy Minister, Karine Elharrar, was unable to attend talks at the UN climate summit in Glasgow on Monday, it was a story that I, sadly, found all too familiar. It needn’t be said that, as a lawyer and head of a government ministry, Elharrar is a highly competent individual whose thoughts on the global climate crisis would have been highly valuable. Yet, they were never heard, because the hall at a conference of that magnitude, in the year 2021, still failed to include basic access for someone using a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy.

I empathised with Elharrar who was led, in vain, from one entrance to another for two hours (all the while her colleagues shared ideas that she had flown thousands of kilometres to hear), only to have to return to her hotel. The best part is that the shuttle that had been called to transfer her wasn’t accessible either.

Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, correctly put it: “It’s not possible to take care of the future, the climate, sustainability if we don’t first take care of people, accessibility and people with disabilities.” But one often wonders if such a basic requirement as that can be considered a priority.

Accessibility cannot and should not be considered a luxury. All buildings should have alternative entrances to allow those in wheelchairs to enter; subtitles or interpretation for those who are hard-of-hearing should be a given; transportation that enables all to use it should not be something unique (or exorbitant); and people should really stop parking in disabled bays that are wider to accommodate placing a wheelchair beside the vehicle.

According to the WHO, 15% of the global population is reported to have some type of disability. The number increases when it is acknowledged that many tend to acquire a disability with age, meaning that everyone is likely to be affected at some point in their lifetime.

We are living in a social age where movements are in full-force to combat anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and a host of other -isms that are unjust and perpetuate discrimination. It seems, however, that ableism remains far down on the list — if it is even recognised at all.

Elharrar’s experience, while shocking to most, is not uncommon for the billions who possesses some form of disability. But perhaps, this time, the world might take note and actually begin to do something about it.

About the Author
Despite hating the sound of her own voice, Sasha Star worked in radio for over 6 years in South Africa, before transitioning into international television and the world of global content creation. Her “driven” personality and love of film, music, literature, and food means that in spite of being in a wheelchair, she is often too busy to sit down.
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