Name of author: Guila Seidel and Yael Weisz-Rind

Mailing address: 8 Degel Reuven St., POB 925 Jerusalem Israel

Telephone: +972-2-6599553

Fax number: +972-2-6522614

Email: Ofek@ofekl.org.il

Making Education Accessible – the Power of Parents’ Association in Israel

A historical Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) ruling puts an end to decades of neglect and decimation

 

For more than 60 years, the state of Israel neglected its obligation to make education accessible for children with blindness or visual impairment. The Ministry of Education (MoE) refused to provide school books and materials in accessible formats or allocate budgets to address the need.

The situation was such that parents were referred to the Central Library for the Blind, an association that although making efforts to respond to the demand suffered from lack of funding and production capacity. It could only provide part of the books, no math books were provided, and the formats provided were mainly audio, with very few Braille books. Furthermore, parents were forced into a complicated process – struggling to obtain school materials, preparing braille books, reading to their children and generally spending hours to support them. This unbearable situation had a grave impact on talented children who could not reach their full potential. This was even more critical in the Israeli context, wherein all the children who have only visual impairments (no other disability) are in mainstream schools where resources are limited.

Ofek Liyladenu, Israel’s National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairment, was instrumental in bringing about a dramatic change. The association’s long-term advocacy work brought about the solution to this frustrating situation and the promotion of the children’s right for equal education.

After decades of neglect Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favor of parents’ appeal against the Ministry of Education (MoE) about the lack of accessible text books, teaching materials and matriculation examination required for thousands of blind and visually impaired pupils. The 20 December 2013 ruling is a landmark ruling for children with blindness and visual impairments.

Following the succesful appeal[i] (November 2011), of “Ofek Liyladenu” – Israel National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments,  the MoE accepted its fundamental responsibility. “We are thrilled with the court ruling” says Yael Weisz-Rind, Executive Director of “Ofek Liyladenu”, “children with blindness and visual impairments are no longer second class citizens and can enjoy their right for education and start the school year as their sighted peers”.

One of the immediate results of the appeal was a first time funding guaranteed in the MoE budget to produce school books in one of four formats accessible to the children: Braille, audio recording, digital format and enlarged print.  “As parents we believe in our children’s abilities and talents. They can fulfill their potential and grow to be independent adults who contribute to society.” says Guila Seidel, Chairperson of “Ofek Liyladenu”, “All they need is the adequate attitude and support of the MoE and in their schools.”

“Ofek Liyladenu” is a non-profit association funded by donations. The association is a big supportive diverse community for more than 1200 families from all parts of Israeli society, and provides services, support and representation to the children and their families.

Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) ruling of 20 December 2013 on the appeal of “Ofek Liyladenu” and “Bizchut[ii]” on accessible text books, teaching materials and matriculation examination to children with visual impairment[iii]main points:

  1. The Ministry of Education (MoE) recognizes its responsibility to provide accessible text books, teaching materials and matriculation examination to children with visual impairment.
  2. Accessibility is provided in a modular way. There are four relevant formats: Braille, Enlarged print, digital file and voice recording. The student should be able to use any of the format as well as any necessary combination according to their needs. This should be done in a dialogue with their professional teacher.
  3. Providing internal school materials is the responsibility of the school via the relevant teacher.
  4. MoE regulations on schools’ obligation to ensure accessibility of internal materials and school activities will be published by 1/3/2014. The MoE will consult “Ofek Liyladenu” on the regulations and will refer to the four formats and to the procedure through which a decision is made on the suitable formats. The regulations will include criteria for providing voice recording.
  5. Accessible matriculation examination – the MoE recognizes its responsibility to provide exams in either Braille, enlarged print or digital file in real time. The MoE will publish a regulation on the interface between the school and the Examination Department regarding matriculation examination for students with visual impairments.
  6. Timing of book distribution to the students: the MoE position was that books will be provided by the end of October (for books that were included in the MoE lists by May). The MoE also noted lack of qualified professionals to produce Braille books in mathematics in Arabic, and thus, when necessary the teachers will be responsible to assist the students until the books are provided. The petitioners position was that all books should be provided at the beginning of the school year (end of August). The court ruled in favor of petitioners’ position.
  7. Use of digital files: the MoE/State will ensure that amendment to “Copyrights Law 2007” will be prioritized so that all school books will be accessible in digital file for people with disabilities and especially for blind and visually impaired people. In the interim the MoE will act to ensure all publishers’ consent for the use of a digital file by students with visual impairments, and will consider legal actions against those who refuse. If the MoE does not progress in timely manner on this issue the petitioners can approach the SCJ again.
  8. Finally, this petition raised a crucial public issue and the petitionershave a significant role in advancing the solution to the problem. And since most of the petitioners’ claims were accepted by the court the MoE will pay 10,000 NIS (approx. €2,000) trial costs of the petitioners.

2 Ofek Liyladenu was represented by “Bizchut” The Israeli Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.

1 Ofek Liyladenu was represented by “Bizchut” The Israeli Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.

[iii]The full court ruling in Hebrew: http://elyon1.court.gov.il/files/11/360/085/v27/11085360.v27.htm