Inclusion and hope
Among the more interesting—and fulfilling—commitments I said “yes” to in this season of frantic and frenetic activity was accepting an invitation to be a reactor to “Media and PWID (People with Intellectual Disabilities): Covering Stories on Capabilities and Contributions.”
Last July, about 40 media practitioners took part in a workshop on reporting on PWIDs sponsored by the Probe Media Foundation and Unilab Foundation as part of its “Project Inclusion.”
At the close of that workshop, the participants were invited to apply for a fellowship program on reporting on PWIDs, presenting story ideas which, after consultation with the sponsors, would be provided with funding support for basic research and travel. Seven were selected, and as part of the fellowship, presented their output before a panel of reactors for constructive feedback. I was part of that panel.
At the program’s opening, Rhodora Palomar-Fresnedi, executive director of Unilab Foundation, said “Project Inclusion” was born of a plaint by a Unilab executive that he was thinking of emigrating to find better opportunities for his child who had been diagnosed with autism. “Please stay,” she remembers telling the executive, “we can help find opportunities for your child.” And so Unilab Foundation embarked on a project to better integrate individuals diagnosed as falling within the autism spectrum into the larger society. This is because many autistic adults are equipped with skills and intelligence enough for them to lead independent, productive lives. Today, added Fresnedi, they are working to reach the goal of having 100 PWIDs gainfully employed here.
Cheche Lazaro, president of the Probe Media Foundation, building on Fresnedi’s revelation that the theme of this year’s international conference on therapy for people with disabilities is “Change the Story, Change the World,” declared that the media indeed “have a big role to play in changing the story.” Public perception of people with disabilities, she said, has largely been shaped by images created and disseminated by the media. Imagine instead, she added, if the media “story” was shifted to presenting people with disabilities “as whole persons.”
This was the goal of the media fellowship, explained Yasmin Mapua-Tang, executive director of Probe Media Foundation. To generate stories that would, if not “change the story” entirely, then would at least show other media practitioners that other stories, other approaches could be used to present PWIDs in a better, hopeful light.
And hope there was indeed in some stories. Buena Bernal, writing for a website on Filipino workers, focused on the “contribution of PWIDs in the workplace,” including fostering “empathy” among their coworkers. Ted Aldrin Ong, reporting for the Iloilo Metropolitan Times, interviewed the parents and coworkers of Angelo Jardeleza, employed by the Carmelite Sisters in their Bamboocraft Center. His immediate supervisor praised Angelo not just for his diligence but also for his focus at work, sorting out keychains for quality defects before they are approved for sale. Ong’s story also emphasized the importance of “transition centers” which prepare their trainees for the challenge of the real-world workplace after a sheltered workshop.
To be sure, there were also heart-rending tales.
Tess Bacalla, writing for Vera Files, put a spotlight on an oft-overlooked problem: “the forgotten plight of PWIDs in conflict areas.” When survival is the main concern, is there room in the overcrowded to-do lists of local officials, health authorities and especially social workers for the welfare of people with disabilities? “There is no getting used to hearing their stories,” said Bacalla of her interviews with PWIDs and their families in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. The bottom-line: There is no focused program to deal with the concerns of PWIDs, just as there is no “one size fits all” solution.
And finally, there is Princess, who is 22 years old but is, for all intents and purposes, still an infant, lying restlessly in a mat in her single mother’s hovel, unable to walk or speak and out of sight of the rest of her community, including social workers. Paul Icamina, writing for Malaya Business Insight, wants to put a positive spin on the situation. It is, he said, at heart, “a story of unconditional love.”
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