A survey examining Israelis' attitudes towards the mentally disabled revealed alarming findings. About 50% of the respondents would prefer not to know any mentally disabled person, and 40% would not even tolerate them as neighbors. In the report, filed on Wednesday to President Shimon Peres, it was claimed that half of the respondents believe the mentally disabled should not procreate.
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The report, written by Akim (National Association for the Mentally Handicapped) and the B.I. and Lucille Cohen Institute at the Tel Aviv University, is based on a survey which sampled 605 people. Its results show that 37% of the respondents believe the mentally disabled should not be allowed to vote in the elections. About 15% said they should not be allowed to marry and 28% said they should be prevented from having sexual relations.
"In Israel, the authority to determine a mental disability is in the hands of a Welfare Ministry expert committee. The definition includes those with an IQ less than 70, explained Sigal Peretz Yahalomi, CEO of Akim. "The survey shows that the public doesn't know many people with mental disabilities. The problem is that with this ignorance come feelings of fear, tension, misunderstanding and disgust."
'We have a voice'
The data confirm Yahalomi's claims. It shows that a quarter of Israelis would prefer not to work with a mentally disabled person or even to receive a cup of coffee from one. About half of those asked reported they would not like to meet one, a quarter thought a mentally disabled person might be aggressive and dangerous to others. About 31% believed that the mentally disabled belong to a different system.
"I was born with Down's syndrome but I feel I'm everyone's equal," Gil Kataloni said angrily. "It hurts me because we also have a voice, same as anybody else. I voted and I stayed alive so there's no harm in that."
Kataloni, 43, is, among other things, an actor and a Special Olympics European swimming champion. He has been giving lectures to IDF soldiers for the past three years. For many years he has been an employee of a major communications company. "Those who fear us should know that we have a heart and soul and that we are capable of anything if only given a chance. When people get to know you they open up to you," he said.
Yahalomi added, "Our experience shows that those feelings end once people are acquainted with the mentally disabled. This is the way to break boundaries of prejudice. An inclusive society is a prosperous society. We demand that these people will be an inseparable part of the community, in schools and neighborhoods."
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