MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines is a signatory to the 2008 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. But Carmen Zubiaga, executive director of the National Council on Disability Affairs (MCDA), admitted the country has much to do to promote and protect the full participation and enjoyment of rights of all persons with disability.
"Persons with disability (PWD) are still viewed as objects of charity, every initiative they do not on a long-term basis," Zubiaga said on Dateline Philippines Weekend.
Ahead of President Aquino's State of the Nation Address (SONA), Zubiaga said the government should engage PWDs as partners in national development.
"We have to include PWD in all aspects of economic development, from the national, regional down to local level, whether employment, self-employemnt and even developing social enterprises with PWD," she said.
"We feel we should not just be the beneficiaries of any program but rather we should be partners, included in consultation and asked because we are experts in our own matter."
"We have a law creating the Persons with Disability Affairs Office in all government units and we want that President Aquino push for this and provide incentives to governments who create the real PWD Affairs Office, a mechanism that would push for the full participation of PWDs," she said.
Disability Awareness Week
From July 17 to 23, the country marks the 34th National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week, centered around the theme "mainstreaming persons with disabilities in economic development" aimed at promoting the full employment of PWDs.
"Education in the past has been very poor. We have so much demand from the BPOs, call center agents, computer experts, online jobs but the education that PWD got were not responding to the needs of the market... especially for those with intelligence disability, we need support service to be able to get them into the mainstream of labor," Zubiaga said.
The NCDA hopes society, including the private sector, will continue to make changes in its perspective of disability.
"In their corporate social responsibility they say they will employ but when you say it a part of corporate social responsibility it still sounds like charity. We feel there must be a change in the way society accepts disability," Zubiaga said.
Changes should also be made on how the annual event marking national disability awareness week is commemorated, she added.
"Most PWDs are not happy with the way it's being termed... perhaps we can come with a position paper... We hope that in the coming years it will be changed to national disability awareness week," she said.
The World Health Organization estimates about 10% of the global population, especially in developing countries, is differently-abled. A recent world disability report pegs the figure at 15%.
"Unlike before what the Magna Carta says was a person with disability is a person suffering from restrictions but that's not acceptable to us. We feel we are being viewed in the medical perspective, as patients and we need doctors. We are now viewed as a person who has long-term impairment: sensory, mental, visual that may hinder our participation based on our interaction with society on an equal basis with others," Zubiaga said.
According to the NCDA, disability has seven classifications: visual impairment, hearing impairment, orthopedic disabilities, intellectual disabilities (ie autism), psychosocial disabilities (ie bipolar disorder, severe phobia), chronic illness or rare congenital condition.
"Disability should now be viewed from a human rights perspective, every person with disability has the right to fully participate and should be given the support services to be able to function in society," Zubiaga said.
But she admitted that their situation has improved since the world marked the International Year of the Disabled in 1981 when they began to organize and lobby for their rights.
She said organized disability groups such as the Cerebral Palsy of the Philippines, the Philippines Blind Union, Down Syndrome of the Philippines Association and the ADHD Association have also helped raise awareness on the needs of PWDs.
Today, Zubiaga hopes PWDs will come out and be counted and make their voices heard.
"We now have half-a-million PWDs registered and on August 11 we will have the national registration for PWDs and satellite registration in malls. We want to see more PWDs coming out of their shells," she said.
“We have to change the way they look at us and it will only happen if we show who we are and what we can do to be a partner in building a strong nation.”