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Dealing with Persons with Disabilities (PWDs)

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Miss Mae:
I have always wanted to do something. I just cannot tell what it is and how it should be exactly. So for years I contented myself with knowing that I intend to do something for the Philippine society anyway. I just have to realize it.

I finally did so four years ago.

The Philippines has 942,098 persons with disabilities--473,332 of these were women and 468,766 were men. But these figures were based on a population count more than a decade before. They were cited by administrator Carmelita Ericta of the National Statistics Office during the 5th Annual Meeting of the Washington Group on Disability Statistics.

Low vision is the most common disability in the country since 1995. The World Health Organization, however, said that ‘the most common disabilities are associated with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes; injuries, such as those due to road traffic crashes, falls, landmines and violence; mental illness; malnutrition; HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.’ Worldwide, it is clinical depression.

Half of the PWDs in the Philippines are old people (60 years and over). The other half are below 49 years old. This could only mean that one in 20 households in the Philippines has at least one member with disability. Majority of them, however, remain confident that they could still work. In fact, one in three PWDs actually heads a household. Literacy rate among male PWDs was 70% and female PWDs 69%.

So while it is true that there are administrative orders favoring PWDs in the Philippines, there is no current information that can tell how many of them are benefiting from these regulations (or if they are benefiting, indeed). So while a number of organizations designed themselves to support PWDs, there is still a lack of awareness of the ‘social problem’ physical disability has come to be. So while there are freebies and donations to PWDs, not too many are willing to give the latter a chance to prove their worth.

For instance is the act enacted to facilitate mobility of PWDs. Batas Pambansa Blg. 344 has been approved five administrations ago but not all public establishments heeded. A budget airline recently disallowed a ‘special’ child to get inside its craft. The 2000 Census counted some 57% PWDs who holds a job because they can put up their own business, while 30% working in the agricultural sector.

Special education should be integrated in all levels of schools in the Philippines.

“Equality is rooted not merely on charity or accommodation, but on justice for all.”
~ Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban

Miss Mae:
We could start by learning sign language.

Ludwig Wittgenstein may have meant something more philosophical when he wrote “The limits of my language are the limits of my mind,” but it could also explain why not too many of us can deal with PWDs comfortably.

Few only can speak sign language. Thus, few only can appreciate a discussion with PWDs and believe them.

To my mind, PWDs are labeled as such to remind Filipinos that they are apart from their condition. Those ‘little boxes’ some television networks display during certain programs are not enough to enable PWDs participate in a discussion with anyone other than their family. Feedback is part of the picture, right?

Miss Mae:
I could have been insensitive to those who already care for PWDs.

Before I shared here in the Forum what I wanted to be acted upon, the Department of Education (DepEd) had issued Braille1 textbooks to help visually impaired children. Also, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) had ordered all local chief executives (LCEs) to establish health desks manned by rural health officers (RHOs).

In the current administration, DILG Secretary Jessie Robredo has tasked all governors and municipal mayors to create a Person with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO). Every PDAO should coordinate and implement the provisions of Republic Act 100702 and of Batas Pambansa 3443, gather statistics and relevant data on PWDs, disseminate information on programs and activities for PWDs, and create employment for PWDS. Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy of the Bagong Henerasyon Partylist also proposed to include sign language studies in the elementary education curriculum.

Last summer, through a memorandum by DepEd-Baguio, public school teachers in Ifugao studied sign language along with the LINK Center for the Deaf and the Boeing Global Corporate Citizenship.

Then again, DILG Secretary Jessie Robredo—his father became blind at 4 when he was stricken with a rare eye ailment, and three of his (Jessie Robredo's) siblings are also blind because visual impairment runs in the family—addressed the launching of the “Fully Abled Nation,” a program seeking to increase the participation of PWDs in the coming 2013 Philippine midterm elections. The Philippine Association for Citizens with Developmental and Learning Disabilities, Inc. (PACDLD) contributed to the celebration of the 34th National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week, and so with the Department of Health-National Capital Region (DOH-NCR), Motorcycle Philippines Federation, Land Transportation Office (LTO), Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), Commission on Elections (Comelec), Alyansa ng may Kapansanang Pinoy (AKAP-Pinoy), Department of Labor and Employment-National Reintegration Center for OFWs (DOLE-NRCO), and the Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns (BWSC).

But bills are not laws and initiatives need follow up. For instance, most of the textbooks that would enable blind and partially sighted people to read and write through touch are actually just unwanted titles from libraries overseas. They cannot be produced locally and are not translated into Filipino. There was also an LGU4 that had shut down a school for deaf children. When asked why, a representative from the DepEd reasoned that it does not like “(to waste) their resources just to accommodate a few.”

Sign language should be learned by everyone; this way, the 4 million hearing-impaired (HI) Filipinos can benefit by being understood by anyone. Also, according to an SWS survey, among of the reasons why only 54% of the PWDs participated in the 2010 elections and only 22% of PWDs of voting age bothered to register was that nobody can shade or read the ballots for them.

The total of Filipinos with disabilities was estimated at 7.5 million by the World Health Organization (WHO) way back in 2000—a very substantial constituency that sorely needs our help. Let us do something for them.

“Sad to say, support for special education centers rests fully on the whims of the local government units.”—Jojo I. Esposa Jr., a registered sign language interpreter and author of Basic Web Accessibility Guide for Filipinos.

1A writing system that consists of patterns of raised dots representing letters, numerals or punctuation marks. It was invented by Louis Braille (1809-1852), who was blind and became a teacher of the blind.
2Magna Carta for Disabled Persons
3Accessibility Law
4The city is a first-class and highly urbanized area with 17 public elementary schools and 9 public high schools.


Miss Mae:
Something happened within the last two months that could change the fate of PWDs in the Philippines forever.

Jesse “Pogi” Manalastas Robredo died.

He was the one who mandated a person with disability affairs office (PDAO) in every city. This office would update the national and local government agencies on what the PWDs really need, as well as engage non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs) in implementing related laws and policies on disability.

He also was the one who encouraged PWDs to register in the coming midterm elections. Only about 742,000 PWDs had done so (Comelec 2012 data) even though Article V, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution already guarantees a "procedure for the disabled and the illiterates to vote without the assistance of other persons.” There are nearly 9 million PWDs in the Philippines to date, 3.6 million of which are qualified to vote (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting).

Will his successor, Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd, share the same passion of empowering PWDs, too? PNoy only expected him to “promote transparency in the financial records of local government units, tighten security on jails, and improve the country's fight against terrorists and other lawless elements,” after all.

Also, the only time the newly appointed DILG secretary got reportedly involved with PWDs was when a blogger from Cebu asked him to look into “Cebu Pacific’s discrimination issue.” The manager of the airline told ten deaf passengers, mostly foreigners, “to get out from their seats.”

The international community had regarded Sec. Roxas as "one of the young leaders in politics and business who will bring Asia and the Pacific to the forefront of world affairs." He had been "one of the global leaders of tomorrow who is expected to shape the future" also. Hopefully, his recent recognition as the 16th Lee Kuan Yew Fellow in Singapore would inspire him to work more for PWDs.

"Change should begin from within.”
–Lea Salonga-Chien, OLD, a Filipino soprano singer and actress

Miss Mae:
Is there a reason to celebrate the “International Day of Disabled Persons” today?

The United States, which has currently the largest economy in the world, has the Health and Human Services Office on Disability (OD) that oversees the programs and policies on the health and well-being of PWDs whatever their age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and educational attainment may be. It was created last November 2002 when approximately 51.2 million Americans are living with at least one disability.

Its Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also amended the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against PWDs in all matters of employment. Other federal agencies coordinating for the implementation of the ADA are the Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), Civil Rights Center, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Department of Transportation, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Department of Justice, and Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB).

Meanwhile, Bhutan, which is one of the countries with the smallest and least developed economy, has ‘very little data’ on the prevalence and types of disabilities there. The latest count of the Population and Housing Census was last 2005 where some 21,894 PWDs (or 3.5 per cent of the population) were recorded.

Bhutanese society is ‘generally sympathetic and compassionate’ to PWDs. Even members of the extended families would serve the basic needs of the PWDs among them.

But the United States gives leeway to private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions if being fair to PWDs imposes “undue hardship” on them. “Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.”

But Bhutan has only one school for the blind, two integrated pilot schools for the deaf, and one vocational school for children with disabilities. Their family structure is changing; those living in the rural areas are migrating; and ‘the gap remains wide in both knowledge and understanding among Bhutanese of relevant disability issues.’ As a result, PWDs there have to fend for themselves and compete in the job market at the same time.

In the Philippines, which has an economy that grew 5.9% in the second quarter of 2012, healthcare workers are being trained on basic sign language. Regional director Dr. Eduardo Janairo of DoH-NCR happened to believe that communication is vital in delivering healthcare services.

To date, only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws.

"The key to language learning is the linguistic environment.”
--General Phoebe, a female Chinese general


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