PPP for PWDs
It’s tragic that many Filipinos focus more on the hero Apolinario Mabini’s disability (the “Sublime Paralytic” is how he is referenced in history classes) than on his great contribution to the Philippine Revolution. He was the thinker behind the fledgling Philippine republic, a man who was clearly ahead of his time, and whom the historian León Ma. Guerrero described as “righteous, perceptive, and farsighted beyond the measure of his contemporaries and successors, the very embodiment of the intellectual in a revolution…”
Mabini contracted polio when he was 31, and he lost control of his legs for the rest of his brief life. That disability has been imprinted on the national memory—an image of the man borne on a hammock to Kawit, Cavite, in response to a summons from Emilio Aguinaldo, whom he would serve as adviser. It is said that even Aguinaldo was taken aback at the sight of him, but his intellect immediately overshadowed his physical limitations.
Over a century later, have attitudes changed toward persons with disabilities (PWDs)? Not quite. They are still doubly burdened—by their disability and the general perception of what they can’t do rather than what they can. The government acknowledges this and is exerting efforts, through the National Council on Disability Affairs, “to stimulate public awareness of disability and encourage every citizen’s responsibility in the uplift of the economic and social conditions of [PWDs].” To that end, the period July 17-23 has been declared National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation (NDPR) Week, with the theme “Health and Wellness Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Toward an Inclusive Development for All.” Redundant, but you get the idea.
The 37th NDPR Week is featuring—after today’s Family Day for parents and children with disabilities—seminars and forums on health and wellness, voter registration, training sessions, developmental games and other activities, culminating in wreath-laying ceremonies on July 23, Mabini’s birth anniversary, at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila and in his native Tanauan in Batangas.
PWDs are hardly in a good place in the Philippines: For one, too few public spaces are hospitable to them; for another, there is a general condescension in which they are discriminated against or, at the extreme, ridiculed. Too much of the public and private infrastructure has been built with only a token commitment to them. (In March, a study reporting that the University of the Philippines Diliman was inaccessible to PWDs won first prize in the investigative journalism category of the Philippine Journalism Research Conference.) And consider how basically impossible it is for PWDs to take public transportation in the metropolis. Many of them without economic opportunity are driven to begging in the streets.
Against all odds, some PWDs have risen to show that they can achieve great things, just as Mabini did before them. Marjo Lardera was born without arms, but that did not stop him from becoming certified by Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) in service consumer electronics in Iloilo City. He uses his feet to fix appliances and now runs his own shop. “I can do most of what normal people can do,” he declares. “I have also grown to accept discrimination. As a way to fight it, I don’t mind what people say about me. Instead, I show them what I can do. If you let what other people are saying about you get into your head, you’d really lose hope. It will ruin you.”
The poster girl for PWDs in government, Grace Padaca—former elections commissioner, former governor of Isabela, and recipient of the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service—hits the right note when she calls on PWDs to see to their voter registration so they can take part in choosing the country’s leaders. The registration of PWD voters is an important activity of NDPR Week. “People like me need to update our [Commission on Elections] records if we want to be identified as PWD voters and avail ourselves of the option of voting at more accessible polling places in May 2016,” says Padaca. “For the first time, PWDs, together with senior citizens, will be given a choice of which polling places are more accessible to them.”
It’s a slow slog, but the struggle to change the figurative and literal landscape of PWDs cannot but continue.
Perfunctory efforts be damned, here’s a sterling example of the need for a public-private partnership.
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