Friday, December 3 was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. 1 in 5 people in Israel are defined as a person with disabilities, and 80% will become one during their lifetime. Nearly half a million people of working age are recognized by Israel’s National Insurance as being at least 20% disabled. Of this population, just 41% are employed, compared with employment rates of nearly 80% in the general population. The government aims for 51% employment among people with disabilities by 2030, adding around 4 billion shekels a year to the economy.

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The main barriers to employing people with disabilities are employers’ prejudices. There is often concern about costs, and a fear of having to fire an employee with a disability due to their inadequacy on the job and subsequently being exposed to lawsuits. Another barrier is the difficulty in locating employees.

Beyond complying with the requirements of the law and the economic benefits that affect all citizens of the State of Israel, there are many benefits to employing people with disabilities. By employing workers with disabilities, employers can expand the number of potential candidates for a position, promote employment diversity and gain competitive and professional advantages.

Managing a diverse team has the potential to expand the set of administrative tools that a business has at its disposal, and strengthens the business’ brand in the eyes of customers. Incorporating disabled people into a business also helps create a positive work environment and leads to significant social change and improvement in the quality of life of people with disabilities.

There are currently 150,000 unfilled jobs in Israel, and many employers are having difficulty recruiting and reaching out to high-quality employees.

“In Israel, there is a large group of young people with physical disabilities who apply for academic studies, and some choose to study continuously until their master’s degree in order to better face the tough competition in the labor market,” noted Edna Kochman, director of employment at ILAN – the Israel Association for Children with Disabilities.

“During their studies, they are unable to integrate into the economy and gain work experience,” she continued. “These are educated people with motivation and high abilities, who would be happy for a fair opportunity even without work experience, which today is a barrier to their employment and social integration.”

In order to deal with these challenges, there are many programs that provide extensive solutions for both employees themselves and employers. ILAN provides tailored placement in the labor market for applicants with physical disabilities for. It also provides training for absorbing workers with disabilities and provides workplaces with information on making physical accommodations.

The ‘Equal Employment’ program is a government initiative which aims to integrate disabled people into the Ministry of Economy and Industry, working with employers in a variety of fields and providing many tools.

These tools include: providing intra-organizational training, offering support and guidance on the employment of disabled workers in an organization, consulting throughout the recruitment and intake process, providing assistance after the hiring process, protecting rights and benefits, and building a work plan for proper representation of disabled people. In addition, the program provides solutions by lending accessible technological equipment and assisting in actualizing these workplace accommodations.

“Employers need to open a door for people with disabilities,” said Vlady Gur Ari, a lawyer and board member for the Haifa branch of ILAN. “An employer needs to see the abilities of a job applicant. As a person with a disability, I can attest that the most important thing for us is that someone believes in our abilities and does not just see the disability. Today, almost every problem has a solution. We just have to overcome the stigma towards people with disabilities.”

Malki Rotner is the director of the Israeli Forum for Diversity in Employment, which operates as part of a joint venture with the labor branch of the Ministry of Economy and Industry, and the 'Be-Atzmi – On My Own’ association.