Blind World Magazine

Company decides to ban children with disabilities from funfairs.

June 23, 2005.
Haaretz, Israel.

Every year, as summer approaches, the camps run by the Israel Foundation for Handicapped Children (known by its Hebrew acronym ILAN) contact the country's two largest amusement parks to set up visits for the children under their care. After weeks of evading the issue, the Ir Hasha'ashuim company decided to ban children with disabilities from the funfairs it manages - Luna Park in Tel Aviv and Superland in Rishon Letzion - on the grounds that the ILAN children pose a danger to themselves and other visitors.

The decision, which was first publicized in Haaretz on June 15, has ignited a social struggle that intensified the more the management insisted on upholding its ban. The struggle has aroused expressions of heartfelt solidarity. A broad coalition has joined the fight: The Histadrut labor federation, the disabled veterans organization, the federation of community centers and others have called for a consumer boycott of the amusement parks. Some 1,200 students at the country's democratic schools canceled a planned trip to Luna Park, which they had awaited for six months. Disabled rights activists, the director general of the Social Welfare Ministry and the chairman of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee filed a police complaint charging that the amusement park management violated anti-discrimination laws; disabled rights activists are preparing a civil complaint against the company.

The other side adopted the tactic of ignoring the issue. They turned away most reporters without commenting. The management may have thought the press would lose interest and the struggle would fade away. But it's difficult not to embrace children, especially those with disabilities. The injustice was clear - something children in the first and second grades at Nadav school in Modi'in understood immediately. "Imagine that you were disabled and they wouldn't let you enter," they wrote to the management. "How would you feel?"

The appeal to the management's sense of justice did not succeed. Legislators know what the children didn't, and for that reason incorporated financial and criminal sanctions into the law barring discrimination against people with disabilities. The chairman of the Knesset welfare panel, MK Shaul Yahalom (National Religious Party), said lawsuits protesting the ban would cause the management company to go bankrupt.

It's hard to know what losses the amusement parks would have incurred, or whether a widespread boycott could have got off the ground. Even parents with social awareness would have had a difficult time rejecting their children's request to have fun in an amusement park over the summer. The managers of other amusement parks did offer alternatives, but Luna Park and Superland are the only ones of their size.

In any event, Ir Hasha'ashuim CEO and owner Sammy Yihye has overturned the ban, perhaps because of the damage to his reputation. He has announced that children with disabilities can enter the amusement parks unconditionally, but until the last minute was enmeshed in arguments about the wording of his commitment.

The State of Israel, so many of whose citizens have become disabled as a result of wars and terror attacks, has come a long way in the last few years when it comes to internalizing the importance of handicapped accessibility to buildings, services and transportation. Business owners have also awakened to this need, and to the understanding that there are financial benefits to taking social responsibility for the different and the weak. The accomplishments of human rights groups must be strengthened and broadened, so as to remove all barriers blocking people with disabilities from participating in every facet of Israeli life.

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