Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Israeli Disability Bill Advances

I missed this piece from Haaretz last week:

The Knesset voted 36-0 Tuesday to approve one of the most sweeping social laws in the history of the state, which makes residential buildings, workplaces, commercial areas, public institutions, schools, clinics, recreation and nature sites, and even traffic intersections and sidewalks accessible to individuals with physical, sensory and mental disabilities.

"Some 750,000 disabled individuals live in Israel. The law will allow us to live in a progressive society in which individuals with disabilities have full equality," said MK Shaul Yahalom, chairman of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee, which approved the bill Monday for its final readings in the legislature.

Yahalom's committee has been discussing the huge legislative initiative on an almost weekly basis for the past two years.

The issue of accessibility occupies the largest and most complex section of the equal rights for people with disabilities bill that was initiated some 10 years ago by Bizchut - The Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities. The clauses of the bill that deal with equality in the field of employment, accessibility to public transport and the establishment of an equal rights commission for people with disabilities were approved in 1998.

Under an agreement reached this week between Yahalom and representatives of the treasury, the accessibility project will be implemented over a period of up to 14 years from today, at a total cost of some NIS 2.5 billion. Work on the project will begin 18 months from now, following the formulation of all the relevant ordinances for implementing the law.

According to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, implementation of the law will be "a real revolution for the disabled public, and has an important educational message."

The proposed law also packs a punch, to ensure its enforcement: An individual who fails to uphold his obligation vis-a-vis accessibility for disabled people can be fined up to NIS 50,000. Office holders who break the law could face criminal proceedings - an unusual sanction in the public sector.


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