Open the Gate: Workers with Disabilities No Longer Limited to Sheltered Work

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Havatzelet Amrami ‒ Chimes Israel’s Director of Employment, recently penned this Editorial Opinion published on Channel 13’s website in Hebrew.

Workers with disabilities are talented, know how to work in any field, and are thirsty for the mainstream employment market, but no one wants to hire them. Integrating them will help build a richer society that recognizes the abilities of everyone.

Let’s start from the end: as of today, our organization, Chimes Israel, has 60 trained and work-ready people who are waiting to be offered jobs in the mainstream labor market. They seek placement at various levels in caring for the elderly, and working in kitchens, back offices, packaging and assembly lines. In most of the fields where they have been trained, there is a lack of reliable, stable and high-quality personnel. 

Twenty years ago, our way of helping people with disabilities to feel proud of their abilities was to bring various production lines that required skills and earned higher pay to our in-house sheltered work factories. The NGOs raced to approach companies to have their lines built in sheltered work factories. Up to as recently as 2020, a company that took on a project of this type was doubly proud that they offered work to people with disabilities and provided decent salaries for their work. 

However, we have realized that the sheltered factories, with all their good intentions, keep people with disabilities separate from society. The original goal was to train them for a fixed and short period, then integrate them into the mainstream labor market, ready to work. However, because sheltered work factories proved convenient for employer and employee alike, more often than not, people stayed in the factories, continued to receive low compensation, and never integrate into the labor market.  

Convinced that mainstream employment provides a greater level of individual purpose, self-worth and self-development, NGOs have been working for years to help people with disabilities to work and earn respectably. 

We hear our beneficiaries say, “I finally did it! This is my first salary. I’ve been waiting for this all my life.”

It is clear that more fully integrating people with disabilities into society makes it more inclusive and tolerant — values ​​that are important to any healthy society.

For years, the NGOs have been working to adapt ourselves to the needs of the labor market, to get to know, develop, prepare and train more of our people qualified for the world of work. Its time now to close the production lines in the sheltered factories and put skilled workers with disabilities directly in the mainstream labor market. 

Employers are finally listening to the advantages that we have repeated like a mantra for years. We are replacing the fear, the lack of trust in abilities, and stereotypes with evidence of a loyal, dedicated and stable workforce that enters the workplace already trained with skills in place.

The road to the mainstream market employment for people with disabilities is not easy. There are numerous barriers for both employees and employers. We need employers with an open heart and mind, to hire and help us integrate another 60 people into the world of work. Besides being a win-win for the employees and employers, this will be your contribution toward building a more tolerant, inclusive, richer society that recognizes the abilities of everyone.

Havezlet Amrami is the manager of Chimes Israel’s continuum of employment services for people with disabilities.

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