Finding Ability in Disability: PWDs During the Pandemic

by Sean Craig D. Alsim

[From left to right] Darlyn de Lara (28) and Prince Restrivera (25), both SENYASCCI staff, narrated their stories during and after the pandemic. (Photo from Sean Craig Alsim)

Imagine being ignored at work daily and having only a few people to ask help from because they cannot understand you. This is the reality of PWDs with hearing disabilities, who continue to live in a world full of barriers.

For the members of the PWD community in Carmona, being part of society can often feel disconnecting. With problems such as discrimination, lack of participation, and struggle to find work, one could already imagine how the pandemic further amplified these problems. As COVID-19 cases in the city become stable and businesses reopen two years into the pandemic, the Carmona local government unit (LGU) faces a problem: how can they help PWDs transition and ease into work again?

Data about PWDs in Carmona

As of March 2022, the Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO) has over 2,062 registered PWDs in the 14 barangays of Carmona, Cavite. The majority (54.46%) are male, affected mostly with psychosocial disability, physical disability (orthopedic), and intellectual disability, the most prevalent type of disabilities in the city.

Currently, there are five different PWD Associations that the PDAO supervises. First is the Kilusan Kabalikat ng May Kapansanan para sa Kinabukasan (4K), which caters to parents with children of special needs; Persons with Disability Organization in Carmona, Cavite Inc. (PDOCCI), which functions as the bridge for PWD rights and concerns to be brought to the LGU and other government agencies; Buhay Autismo Inc. (BAI), which serves families and children with autism spectrum disorder; Social Enhancement Nurturing Program for Youth and Adult deaf Society in Carmona, Cavite Inc. (SENYASCCI), which caters to PWDs who have hearing disabilities; and Down SYNdrome ParEnts Support group-Carmona Cavite (DYSNPESO-CC), which serves families and children with Down syndrome.

Challenges faced by PWDs during the pandemic

Darlyn de Lara (28) and Prince Restrivera (25), SENYOSCCI staff and persons with hearing disabilities, had their struggles during the pandemic.

During the first months of the lockdown, the livelihood programs of the PWD Associations were temporarily halted, with hundreds of PWDs compelled to stay in their homes in fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus. With markets and businesses closed, many members had little to no means to support their basic needs.

Without SENYASCCI’s livelihood program stipends, Darlyn, Prince, and other PWD workers had to rely on the Carmona LGU’s initiative to provide people with food packs and financial aid to sustain their needs until it was safe to work again.

According to Dalisay Canada, a PWD with orthopedic disability and the current Carmona PWD Federation President, the operations of the PWD associations resumed two months after the lockdown restriction. However, due to low product demand, they had to change staff work schedules. In PDOCCI, the office cut tofu production work schedules from three workdays to two days a week. Moreover, workers attending SENYOSCCI’s Rice-in-a-bowl program also changed from the usual four people to two people assigned to work daily, interchanging every week.

As low sales in work mean lower stipends for PWD workers, some turn to other sources of income to support the needs of their families. For instance, Darlyn also does paint commissions and helps her aunt do household work to get extra money, aside from her regular work at the association.

Aside from this, the PWD community in Carmona can also be unreceptive in participating in programs and opportunities provided by the PWD associations. Canada said that lack of participation had been a long-term problem the associations continue to face. As a result, low attendance was observed even if they conducted regular house-to-house announcements and posted about routine barangay general assemblies on community pages. For example, in Lantic, only 20 of 437 or four percent of the total recorded PWDs in the barangay would attend the assemblies.

Canada said that a probable reason might be because they already have livelihoods that they manage.

“[Inaanyayahin namin na] umattend sila minsan… para nang sa ganoon, malaman nila yung proyekto, yung binibigay sa kanilang [oportunidad] para matulungan sila, kung paano sila matutulungan makapagtrabaho,” added Canada.

According to Eric Tolentino, a PWD with a hearing disability and current adviser of SENYASCCI, many people with hearing disabilities in Carmona struggled during the pandemic; among the most pressing cases is difficulty finding jobs.

As part of PDAO’s mandate to increase PWDs’ access to employment opportunities, the office pushes efforts to implement Republic Act No. 10524 or The Magna Carta For Persons With Disability, a law requiring government agencies and the private sector to reserve at least one percent of its job positions for PWDs.

“Ang purpose ng pag-aapply natin ng trabaho sa kanila, socialization. Para matanggap sila ng society. Pero yung society medyo mahirap sa kanila,” stressed Ms. Jasmin Gabriel, a Disability Support Group Coordinator from PDAO.

While the law makes great strides in recognizing the capability of PWDs and promoting inclusivity in the workforce, it lapses in one major aspect: it does not properly address how government agencies and private corporations may provide a conducive work environment for PWDs.

After working for four months in a private manufacturing company in Carmona, Prince resigned from his work. He expressed his feelings of being an outcast throughout his short tenure—often ignored by non-disabled peers with no one he could turn to for help.

“Siguro may mga pwede nating i-justify sila [non-disabled workers] na takot silang makipag-usap kasi hindi sila marunong mag-sign [language]. Diba, hindi sa ayaw nila or ayaw [dahil] nahihirapan lang sila. Pero, maraming [paraan ng] communication.. Marunong sila magsulat. Nakakabasa sila,” added Ms. Gabriel.

One of the ways that SENYASCCI addresses this problem is through counseling the PWDs and parties involved in such incidents. However, according to HR practitioner Ederlyn Cortes in an Inquirer think piece, all organizations must initiate efforts to develop people’s workplace behavior and attitudes to PWDs. In this way, PWDs like Darlyn and Prince may have a safe space to work alongside other people as equals and without barriers.

Livelihood programs: Capacitating PWDs for Economic Development

Each PWD Association has its own set of projects and programs each year to generate jobs and sustain income for PWDs in Carmona.

Under the supervision of PDOCCI, the PWDs in each barangay in Carmona, Cavite produces their products which they sell to earn a living: Barangay one

(1) to eight (8) produces and sells peanut, and vinegar; peanut butter for barangay nine; sugar, Pastillas, and Yema for barangay ten; Alamang, Embutido, Biko for barangay 11; clothing rugs for barangay 12; Coco jam and dishwashing liquid for barangay 14; and dishwashing liquid and powdered soap for barangay 15.

4K, established in 2009, also ensures that its students from PDAO’s Special Education center can have work placement after graduation, immersing them in creating handmade paper-based products from recycled materials, which they sell to local and international buyers.

PDOCCI, established in 2012, is also known for providing employment opportunities to PWDs. Through the help of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the association was able to train PWDs for tofu production, packaging, and marketing.

Carmona: Model Example for PWD Development

According to Canada, Carmona has been a leading municipality in promoting PWD welfare and development. Through its center-based and community- based programs anchored on awareness and empowerment, thousands of PWDs have been mobilized and equipped to be productive members of society.

The municipality also sets an example for other cities, with other LGUs such as the Association of Differently-Abled Persons in Iloilo Multi-purpose Cooperative (ADPIMPC) visiting Carmona last May 2018 to benchmark and adopt its initiatives for the PWDs in their localities.

Because of the LGU’s steadfast and proactive efforts to reduce inequities in the city, the municipality has garnered awards such as the Presidential Award for Most Child-Friendly Municipalities and Cities (1st-3rd Class Category) last 2016, and the Local Government Unit of the Year in Apolinario Mabini Presidential Awards last 2015.

PWD Agenda for the Incoming Local and National Administration

Citing the extensive help that the current and previous Carmona LGU have brought to PWDs, Canada hopes that the incoming leaders of the municipality will sustain its current efforts in improving the lives of local PWDs. Moreover, she also hopes that the local government may allocate additional funds towards the livelihood programs of the PWD federations to give more work opportunities to PWDs.

In a Philippine News Agency press release last year, the National Council on Disability Affairs (NDCA) announced that almost half of the over 1,700 local government units across the Philippines have no individuals or offices that address PWD concerns.

Despite the passing of Republic Act 10070 in 2010, which requires every province, city, and municipality to have its PDAO or focal person to act as the coordinator between the government and PWDs, a decade after, there is still much work to be done for its full implementation in the country.

The global pandemic has only surfaced the vital need for incoming administrations to strengthen their commitment to advancing the interests and rights of PWDs. According to the Asia Foundation (TAF) and the Australian Embassy in the Philippines’ 2021 research on the disability sector, there is still a great need to review policy and program implementation through a bottom-top approach to address the existing barriers for PWDs in accessing government services. By prioritizing key needs such as fair work opportunities for PWDs, they can work in enabling conditions and finally be integrated into mainstream society without fear of discrimination.

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