According to an article, persons with disabilities are as productive as regular citizens and can be just as successful. Lawyer Apolinario Mabini, former Isabela City Governor Grace Padaca, entrepreneur Gilda Quintua-Nakahara, journalist Ronnel del Rio and athlete Ernie Gawilan are just some examples.
In 2006, the United Nations gave a clear definition of “persons with disabilities” in order to promote and enhance the rights of PWDs. According to them, disability includes “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. In the Philippines, the Magna Carta of Disabled Persons and the Accessibility Law exist to inform PWDs of their rights. But is the existence of these laws sufficient to integrate PWDs into mainstream society?
Helping PWDs to become productive citizens not only requires having legislation, but changes in social attitudes toward them. Below are two things that we can individually provide to them:
Understanding the situation of a PWD first means being familiar with his situation. What caused his disability? How long has he lived with it? What places and opportunities does he find inaccessible due to it? What particular tasks does he find challenging? And how does he adapt to these challenges?
After you understand the situation of a PWD, you’ll need to know the specific aid that he needs. For instance, the blind may not be able to see, but if they are provided with books written in Braille, they’ll be able to read. Those who are deaf may have difficulty communicating, but if they learn how to use sign language, they’ll be able to express themselves. And those who use wheelchairs may have difficulty traveling, but if they are provided with accessible vehicles, they’ll be able to get around.
Assistance not only comes from individuals, but also from the government in the form of special services for PWDs. A 2008 study by the Commission on Human Rights stated that PWDs had difficulty accessing the legal system, since not all legal practitioners are able to communicate with PWDs. Lack of adequate interpretation facilities hinder PWDs from receiving adequate protection from the law. In response, the Department of Justice launched a PWD Legal Assistance Desk at the Quezon City Prosecutors office, which has a manual on disability sensitivity for public attorneys and prosecutors. The Public Attorneys’ Office also has PWD-friendly public attorneys who will handle complaints from PWDs.
We may feel that our individual actions are small and may not make much of an impact to society. But each attempt to listen, to understand and to demonstrate care to a PWD, no matter how small, does make a difference.