MANILA -- As Filipino athletes bag gold medals at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Filipino youth with disabilities came home with their own set of medals from an information technology (IT) competition in South Korea.
Four students from Philippine public high schools participated in the Global IT Challenge for Youth with Disabilities (GITC) in Busan from November 25 to 29. Hosted by international non-government organization Rehabilitation International, the competition aims to promote persons with disabilities’ access to technology, education and decent employment.
The Philippine team bested participants from 19 other countries and came home with 5 gold medals and 6 silver medals. They won the Best Award (Gold) for the eContent Challenge, which required the team to create and edit a video.
The team also got an Excellence Award (Silver) in the eCreative Challenge, which involved assembling, programming and maneuvering a robot car.
Two of the Filipino participants also received individual excellence awards: Valenzuela National High School’s Florenz Jaime Fernandez, who has low vision, and Manila High School’s Karl Francis Du, who is deaf, in the eLifemap Challenge (web browsing) and eTool Challenge (Powerpoint and Excel), respectively.
Other members of the team include Valenzuela National High School’s Keith Rafael Ignacio, who has a learning disability, and General Pio Del Pilar National High School’s Ace Benedict Dayto, who has a motor disability.
National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) officer-in-charge Mateo Lee Jr. said it was one of their best years yet since joining the annual competition almost two decades ago.
“We won in all categories. Each one of our disability representatives won a gold medal,” he said.
As part of the best team in the competition, Fernandez received the 2019 Global IT Leader award for having the highest individual points.
“Oftentimes, the public sees persons with disabilities as charity cases, hard to train and with no skills,” Lee said. “Our success here shows that we can be globally competitive.”
Sarah Acero, who was among the students' trainors, said their win shows that children with disabilities are capable of “bringing honor to our country.”
Acero said the participants were chosen from other students who participated in a national IT competition.
They then had to go through two weeks of training for advance web search, office tools and movie making, programming and robotics.
“They are really good in analyzing. They can easily look for what codes are needed to be edited for the car to function,” Acero said of the winning students.
She said the competition is meant to give children with disabilities “opportunities to participate in IT, in the industry itself and learn new things.”
Other trainers who worked closely with the team were Juan Paolo Espiritu, Simon Mabanta, Joshua Suarez, and Bernalyn Decena.
Acero, a member of the group AGHAM (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People), said IT not only gives them easy access to information, it also allows them to be fully independent.
Lee also pointed out that technology now allows persons with disabilities (PWDs) to be skilled and self-sufficient.
“We are part of society,” he said. “And IT plays a big part in allowing persons with disabilities to have livelihood.”
He said a number of persons with disabilities are able to work and be taxpayers by working at home with the help of technology.
“It’s time we give attention to people with disabilities in the Philippines,” Acero said. “Given the right opportunities they will excel.”
Lee said they are now working with local government units (LGUs) to give children with disabilities more opportunities to excel in the field of IT. Among their proposals is for LGUs to give winning students scholarships for college.