How’s your commute? A journey from the perspective of a visually impaired person
This is the first part of a series on persons with disabilities commuting in the Philippines.
Ever wondered how the blind get to and from work in these streets?
For massage therapist Lorna Padilla and her husband Jerry, the two must navigate obstructed sidewalks, slippery overpasses, and unsafe pedestrian crossings to get to their place of work nearly six kilometers away from home.
Living in a two-story house made of concrete blocks, aluminum sheets and wooden planks, the Padillas wake up at 6 a.m. to prepare breakfast for themselves and their three children, two of whom are partially blind.
Compared to her husband whose blindness is only partial and hereditary, Padilla went permanently blind at the age of 7 after falling ill from measles.
Working as blind massage therapists in Tandang Sora, the couple commute to work daily from Commonwealth Avenue, one of the most densely populated areas for commuters in Quezon City.
Shortly after preparing their children’s meals for the day, Padilla, her husband and a co-worker left their small home in Barangay Holy Spirit at 8 a.m. for the journey ahead.
As the ABS-CBN News Team followed the Padillas early this month, the first challenge was immediately apparent: sidewalks.
Utility poles, parked vehicles and other litter blocked their path, making it difficult for them to walk on these designated footpaths.
During their journey, a stack of water jugs also fell near Lorna's feet, causing her to jump.
"Kasi kapag dito sa, ‘yung daanan ng tao, nahihirapan po kami dahil ang daming harang. Minsan may nasasagi kami. So mas maganda, dito na lang sa baba kami dumaan, sa may daanan ng sasakyan,” she said.
Don Fradejas, Metro Manila Development Authority Task Force on Accessibility head focal person for PWDs, said the group is fully aware of the problem regarding sidewalks in the city.
He said that the task force, formed in 2018, continues to coordinate with agencies concerned but noted that the pandemic had slowed down its progress.
He attributed the existing problems of sidewalks to lack of prioritization from past administrations of the concerned agencies.
“Hindi naman binibigyan ng gaanong pansin [noon] although... kinakalabit [na] namin sila for them to look into this problem,” he said.
After braving the sidewalks, the three PWDs finally arrived at Commonwealth Avenue to wait for a jeepney.
As a slight rain fell, the three decided to take shelter under a footbridge instead of opening their umbrella since they were carrying bedsheets for their work.
After 25 minutes, the three were able to get a ride before the rain started to pour.
Their journey did not end there.
UNSAFE PEDESTRIAN CROSSINGS
Serving as the eyes of the group, Padilla’s husband led her and their co-worker to their next challenge: the pedestrian crossing.
Under Batas Pambansa 344's Appendix A.7.3, pedestrian crossings must have tactile blocks or tactile paving for the blind. None were available on the pedestrian crossing on Tandang Sora, Commonwealth Avenue.
Another hurdle: the three had to cross the street without the help of audible signals that would have indicated how much time they had to cross.
BP 344's Appendix A.7.5 says "the audible signal used for crossings should be distinguishable from other sounds in the environment to prevent confusion from the blind." None were available on the same pedestrian crossing.
While the three were crossing the street, a white minivan stopped directly on the pedestrian crossing as it tried to maneuver a U-turn.
Padilla and her companions were stuck in the middle of the road, not knowing whether it was safe to cross or let the vehicle pass by first.
After safely crossing, the three visually impaired had one more jeepney ride ahead to get to their place of work. Other commuters who were waiting in line allowed them to go first after realizing that they were blind.
“’Yung ganitong karanasan namin ngayon na madali lang, bihira lang ito. Kadalasan talaga, mahirap... sa usual [days], pumipila talaga kami,” Lorna said.
The Padillas and their co-worker arrived at their workplace before 9 a.m., just in time for the cut-off. Had they arrived 5 minutes late, their transportation expenses would not be reimbursed.
Since they work via commission, reimbursement of their transportation fee is crucial for the Padillas.
After nine hours of working, Padilla decided to go home earlier than usual to avoid the evening traffic and arrive home in time for dinner. The day's earnings totaled P850 (about US$15)- a good day for the couple. On bad days, they would go home with only P200 (about $3.55).
As they started their journey home, Padilla was nearly hit by a motorcycle while waiting for a jeepney. This is due to a lack of an established waiting area for blind commuters.
Fortunately, they were able to hail a jeepney in half an hour.
Going along the same route on their way back home, the two PWDs had another hurdle: using an overpass to cross to the other side of the avenue. At the Tandang Sora overpass, they had to go through not only one set of stairs, but two due to lack of an elevator.
With steps and floors still wet from the afternoon rain, the couple relied on each other to avoid slipping and stumbling.
The lack of elevators for some overpasses in the city can be attributed to the concern of maintaining them, Errol Barba, a wheelchair user, of the MMDA Task Force on Accessibility, said.
“Ang sabi nila [local government units], kung lalagyan ng elevator, sino mag-mamaintain? Kung okay ba sa LGU na sila mag-mamaintain non... Ang [concern] po diyan, who will take the responsibility,” he explained.
More studies should be conducted to identify how concerned agencies should deal with the problem of elevator maintenance in overpasses, he said.
"Kasi sa funding, sa mga agencies, they have funding to put elevators... Pero ayun nga, sino magmamaintain niyan to make it sustainable?" he asked.
Taking a jeepney ride to their next destination, the Padillas would have to climb another set of stairs on an overpass that also lacked elevators. Making this journey harder was a steady rain that made everything slick and unsafe for the blind couple.
Thankfully, the couple had already gotten a ride before the usually heavy traffic at night started to become worse. A few minutes more meant another half-hour of getting stuck in traffic.
A final challenge, however, awaited the couple: the Commission on Audit overpass, which was higher than the previous footbridge.
This meant more slippery floors, steep steps and slightly darker path.
After taking the overpass, the two PWDs walked home, wrapping up another day of commuting in the city.
So how was that day’s commute for a visually impaired person? Padilla had this to say:
"Okay lang naman po 'yung biyahe ngayon. Talagang masasabi kong okay 'yung biyahe namin, pati kaninang umaga."
But this smooth experience does not negate the previous commutes she went through, she pointed out. On one occasion, she and her husband had to beg a driver of a private vehicle to hitch a ride to Philcoa, she recalled.
“Late na late na talaga kami noon… Napakahirap po talaga noon. Nakisuyo talaga kami sa mga tao na isakay kami, pero wala. Napakahirap talaga noon,” she shared.
Beyond the problem of hailing a ride, Padilla had also received insensitive remarks from able-bodied people she encountered during her commutes.
“Sasabihin nila sa akin, 'Bulag bulag na nga kayo, pakalat kalat pa kayo sa daan’,” she recounted.
With the need to sustain their family's needs, Padilla had no choice but to suffer through the difficulty in commuting, from the inaccessibility of public spaces to the insensitivity of people they encounter outside.
“Hindi talaga priority ang PWD sa pagsakay namin,” she lamented.
As Padilla hopes for better days ahead for blind commuters such as her, she remains stern in calling for the government to take action and improve the accessibility of PWDs in the Philippines.
“Hindi naman namin kasalanan na PWD kami... Kaya dapat mapansin kung ano 'yung mga pangangailangan namin,” she said.
The 44th National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation (NDPR) Week is currently being celebrated from July 17 to 23. The advocacy week is led by the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA).