Advocates laud ‘inclusive’ provisions in 2021 budget, but still a long way to go for PWDs

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Advocates laud âinclusiveâ provisions in 2021 budget, but still a long way to go for PWDs
File photo shows a PWD in crutches. For many PWDs, mobility is the main problem holding them back.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — Advocates for persons with disability or PWDs lauded the government’s 2021 budget bill as a step forward in issues affecting the disability community. 

In a statement, Advocates of Inclusion, a network of development professionals, said that next year’s fiscal plan included proposed amendments that promoted disability inclusion in all infrastructure projects of the government, particularly public schools, all of which were accepted by the Senate Finance committee. 

Leaders within the disability community often point to accessibility as one of the principal concerns of PWDs: despite the Magna Carta for PWDs mandating accessibility and a "barrier-free environment" for PWDs, members of the disability community today still struggle with accessing basic services such as healthcare, education and transportation, all of which were only amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. 

READ: Social distancing's victims: In a Luzon quarantine, the disabled are mostly forgotten

“Unlike everyone else, social minorities like persons with disabilities have severely diminished opportunities for education, employment, healthcare, and political participation because of their disability, poverty, race, color, gender, and inaccessible environments,” the NGO said in its statement, citing findings from an earlier focus group discussion it conducted which suggested that children with disabilities had a hard time attending school because of inaccessible transportation, roads, sidewalks, and school premises.

"Some even complained that Special Education Centers did not have wheelchair access to upper floors and that public schools did not usually have toilets suitable for wheelchair users," the NGO also said.

A 2019 study by the University of the Philippines Center for Local and Regional Governance found that only six out of ten local government units in the Philippines established a dedicated PDAO, marking 33 provinces, 25 cities and 282 municipalities lacking PDAOs for their disabled constituents. 

The Commission on Elections over the past month has been pushing for mail-in voting for the upcoming 2022 polls, citing the accessibility of this will afford PWDs, senior citizens and pregnant women, many of whom are struggle physically with traveling to their closest polling stations. 

The revised provisions to the government's spending plan required the inclusion of access facilities "such as but not limited to ramps, handrails, tactile paving, toilets, and paved walkways, in compliance with the accessible and universal design principles" in all infrastructure projects of the Department of Education and Department of Public Works and Highways.

"The said amendments can be tools to enforce the Accessibility Law and Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities. which can change the lives of millions of persons with disabilities... This is a significant achievement of the sector since this means that persons with disabilities are no longer invisible to the eyes of government leaders and bureaucrats. We believe that given the right opportunities, persons with disabilities can excel in different fields and contribute to nation-building,” the group said. 

Long way to go 

This comes days after the commemoration of the International Day of Disabled Persons 2020 on Thursday, December 3. 

In an interview aired over CNN Philippines that day, National Council for Disability Affairs executive director Emerito Rojas said that despite laws mandating accessible buildings to PWDs, the basic requirements of ramps, non-skid flooring, signages, toilet and washrooms, and parking slots are still lacking in many buildings and establishments. 

According to the NCDA, an attached bureau under the Department of Social Welfare and Development, there are over 1.6 million Filipinos with disabilities in the country. 

RELATED: Women with Disabilities Day passes with women, PWDs still facing hurdles in access and mobility

At a webinar over the weekend, Dr. Carmen La Viña of the Catholic Safeguarding Institute of the Emmaus Center for Psychospiritual Formation said that PWDs, particularly those who are unemployed and have issues with accessibility, were still more at risk of sexual violence and abuse as their disabilities increase their “power difference” and render them more vulnerable to potential abuse. 

The webinar was co-hosted by Time's Up Ateneo, Southeast Asia Feminist Action Movement and the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights. 

"Abuse is due to the power differential, [but] the abuse of PWDs as the disability itself increases “power difference” and limits their capacity to respond," she said, adding that the culture surrounding the vulnerable can make all the difference. 

"They are being excluded, and this increases their invisibility from society and just being able to access resources. Many times they are afraid to complain because they fear they may lose the person who's taking care of them."

La Viña added that for many vulnerable people, including PWDs, children, and subordinates in power relationships, the immediate environments and institutions are often unable to protect victims of sexual misconduct, so the offender is able to carry out the offense when the person belongs to an unsupportive community.

READ: Groups say House reps' slamming of PWD card abuse exposes holes in disability legislation. Here’s how

According to the Commission on Human Rights 2019 National Inquiry on Reproductive Health and Rights, "findings revealed the multiple and intersecting barriers that women with disabilities face in the exercise of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, limited access to RH information, services, and commodities; stigma and discrimination; and exclusion when it comes to decision-making."

"The creation of a disability-inclusive society will lessen barriers faced by millions of Filipinos who have been suffering in silence for a very long time," Advocates for Inclusion said. 




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