Israel Can Do Better For Its Disabled Olim

I am a disabled Oleh who moved to Israel by himself. I hear that Israel has good programs for its disabled citizens. However, many disabled olim, especially those who make aliyah by themselves, face special challenges that should be addressed if disabled olim are to truly be integrated into Israeli society. Based on my experience, these challenges are roughly grouped into five categories: access to services, infrastructure, financial, medical care, and social inclusion. If these areas could be fixed, it would improve the quality of life of not only disabled olim, but all olim, and in some cases, native-born citizens with and without disabilities. I will be basing this article on my own experiences, so not all disabled olim who immigrated to Israel alone will have a similar experience to the one described in this article.

The first area that I think Israel could better serve disabled olim is by having better availability and outreach to disabled olim regarding rights and services available to them. It took me years of my own outreach to begin to find the right people to tell me what my rights as a disabled person are in this country, and I still do not have a complete idea as to what my rights are. I think that during the pre-aliyah period, it would make sense to have people specifically in charge of helping disabled olim make aliyah and let the new disabled olim know what services they can get when they make aliyah and how to get them (or even better have them pre-approved for the services before they get on the plane). It seems like it is fairly common sense, yet it was not done with me.

While, according to Google,  there apparently are ulpanot for disabled people in Israel, I have heard otherwise from people in the Ministry of Aliyah, and the article describing the ulpan for people with disabilities is around 11 years old and has no link to the ulpan. If there is no such thing as an ulpan for disabled people, I suggest that they be added onto regular ulpanot in big cities and have disabled students have regular interaction with non-disabled students. Such a program would benefit disabled people, as they would get friends (particularly helpful to disabled Israelis, given the percentage of disabled Israelis that identify as lonely). Attaching special education ulpanot to regular ulpans would also be beneficial to the state because the non-disabled or less disabled friends that the disabled person made at the ulpan would be able to take some of the burdens off of state services. This is because the less disabled and non-disabled friends could help the disabled person with some minor issues and thus have the state use their resources for other areas, instead of spending them on minor issues.

However, while it seems like Israel’s founders might have never wanted disabled people here in the first place, to Israel’s credit, I can say that based on personal experience, once accessed, the employment services in Israel (and pretty much every other Israeli service for the disabled) far surpasses the disability employment services for the disabled offered by the United States. For the record, while many disabled olim don’t want to live off of taxpayer argot, if it is a case of living on the streets or taking services, it’s a no-brainer that one would take services.

Speaking of streets, the second area that Israel could better serve their disabled olim is by making the country more accessible (I know, it will be expensive, but disabled people have human rights too and human rights, in any civilized society, are priceless). I will base this segment on my current city, Haifa, as a template, although I recognize that some cities might be different. While I never again want to live in a city that is not Haifa (until the Tel Aviv ex-pats and Jerusalemite cast outs ruin Haifa and force all the cool people to move to Nahariya and Akko), considering that Haifa shares many similarities with other cities in Israel when it comes to construction and based on how it’s practically impossible to live in a wheelchair in Haifa, it would be very hard to live with a mobility impairment in Israel. This is in large part due to the Israeli love affair with stairs. This love affair with stairs kind of plays out perversely when it comes to the next problem that disabled Israelis face: finances.

There is no way that I could survive on my disability check had I not had a low monthly expenditure, not been a Ph.D. student, and not a former defense industry worker (both of which are very lucrative if you have a low monthly expenditure), and not be a resident of an Israeli city that was dirt cheap in housing costs. If any of those things weren’t the case, there is no way I could afford to take care of myself. Additionally, if one has a mobility impairment, the Israeli love affair with stairs is just plain perverse, as the cheapest buildings in any city all have stairs. Considering that in the city of Haifa, as of May 1st, 2022, there is only one building shown on Madlan with an elevator that is below 2,300 NIS a month, if one makes the 3,700 ILS a month from social security, living in even low-cost Haifa will be almost impossible if one has a mobility impairment.

This brings me to the problem that is a matter of life and death: medical care. The Israeli healthcare system is fairly decent if you don’t have complex medical conditions. I do. As a result, because the Israeli healthcare system doesn’t have the ability to do blood serum tests for the medicines I am on and relies on maximum dosage laws to govern how much medicine a patient can get, instead of actually using biology, I almost died because of an interaction between one of my disorders and a medicine to treat a side effect from an ADHD medicine I was taking, solely because I could not get the amount of Ritalin in Israel that I was taking in the United States due to Israeli maximum dosage laws. Additionally, the medical system has been described as hard for Olim to navigate. If I did not take three years of Russian in college, I would not have been able to receive medical care in some cases, as the chupot I go to in Haifa only has Hebrew and Russian speaking options for the automated touch systems.

This brings me to the final problem in my experience with how Israel treats disabled olim: social inclusion. Right now, many disabled olim are running into stigmas that we thought ended in the 70s. Almost half of Israelis don’t want to live near a disabled person. This needs to change if disabled olim are to be truly integrated into Israeli society.  It would also help if Israelis stopped using disabilities as an insult. While some politicians and their families in this country have been accused of having personality disorders, even if they do, that should not be an insult and especially an insult that one can get sued for libel over. And actually, get into and stay in a romantic relationship with us. If disabled olim are to truly be best served by Israel, incorporate us into society as regular members, as opposed to pariahs who should be treated separately or as punch lines/insults, all of which hurt badly.

In conclusion, I hear that Israel does do some things right about their treatment of disabled people, and I have had enough experience with the Israeli disability system to concur to some degree. When I have been on dates, had interactions, or had doctor visits with Israelis, I have been told that Israel has far better medical care (it doesn’t) and services than America regarding disabled people (it does). While I do agree with them that Israel has better services than America, especially in the field of employment, and I do not regret my aliyah, I still think that Israel has a long way to go before I would call it disability friendly.

This post was originally posted on June 30, 2022, and is being reposted for International Day of Disabled Persons. Ryan O’Connor contributed to this article.

About the Author
Paul Weisko is an autistic Israeli-American oleh and has substantial academic and work experience on the topics of Asian Security, Israel-Asia Relations, and Israeli arms sales. He writes about Asian Security, Israel-Asia Relations, Israeli arms sales, disability issues in Israel, and aliyah affairs.