Reaching out

THE CITY’S persons with disabilities (PWDs) appeal for access, facilities, and not pity but kindness
THE CITY government seems to be getting alongside PWDs pretty well, with officials of the Association of Differently Abled Persons saying that the city was getting a passing grade.

ADAP past president Redondo Martinez, in an interview, said that the city even has more than the required number of PWDs who are among its employees from the required 1% of national law.

The city government even has facilities like elevators at the City Council for PWDs and the elderly who may need facilities for accessing their local legislators at the second floor and beyond.

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However, it also appears that there needs to be more that could be done, even as the city council is thinking of reorganizing part of the city government to create a PWD Affairs Office (PDAO).Councilor Victorio Advincula, Jr., chair of social services at the City Council, told the TIMES the proposal will be filed on first reading by next month.At City Hall, it’s a different story. There are no elevators. The building old, and the facilities already protected by history, what needs to be done for PWDs is a change in scenery for the decades’ old structure.

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Advincula, on the other hand, reveals that this is one of the ideas floating around to help out PWDs in the city. Part of the solutions being eyed is the move of City Hall to the proposed reclamation areas across the Boulevard being planned by the Mega Harbour project being planned in the next few years.

But Mayor Sara Z. Duterte, for her part, supports the PWDs policy-wise.

Even with the establishment of a formal office for PWDs still pending at the Sangguniang Panlungsod, Duterte has already said she was committed to see this coming into fruition. “My administration strongly supports moves to establish a Persons with Disabilities Affairs Office and commit to programs and services that are aimed at empowering the members of the PWD sector,” she said in a statement.

“Equal opportunities should be extended to persons with disabilities as we share their aspiration to become productive members of the community and as we join the cause to end discrimination and abuse against them.”

The city already has an anti-discrimination ordinance and an interim disability affairs office. However, PWD groups said they could use more support from the city government and other sectors. The office is still under another agency, the City Social Services and Development Office, which has so much on their hands as it is.

ADAP Davao president Naprey Almario, in an interview, said that programs for PWDs remain in the fringes, even as the city’s PWDs were relatively empowered and their accessibility rights more or less respected.

Almario said that regulatory agencies at City Hall were among the culprits in the lack of accessibility amenities in buildings, such as having ramps for wheel chairs among others.

“We want to know kung bakit nakakalusot,” Almario said in an interview at the Sangguniang Panlungsod, referring to permits for structures without ramps.

Around an hour away from City Hall, the Davao School for the Blind is an example of how the sector survives on its own, absent direct support from government agencies of the past.

School principal Lolita Inocentes said that as a private school, the school is still relying on donations from philanthropists and donors coming from abroad.

Recently, social services secretary Judy Taguiwalo guaranteed immediate accreditation for the school in a surprise visit during her presence here.

If the school had funds, Inocentes said that the school could cater beyond Grade 9 and 10, to Grades 11 and 12, or the specialization stages of the high school student’s K-12 program. However, the school has been accredited by the DepEd and follows the education agency’s curriculum for special ed.

At its small campus in Bago Aplaya, the visually impaired students are toughened up to face an uncertain world outside the walls of their classrooms. At the moment, the school has 56 scholars. Here, the students get music lessons, lessons in professional massage therapy, some students even train and win medals internationally in sports like Judo and Jiujitsu. Next month, the students will headline a concert at the Apo View Hotel, a fundraising event.

Part of the students’ training is computer education, with audio systems making up for the visual aspects of word and image processing on-screen. Printouts are in Braille, and the students are being trained for a life outside school.

“But they still get discriminated when they apply for work,” Inocentes laments. “That’s why we train them as much as possible in other skills.”

Perhaps, the private sector and city government can help, if not financially but in terms of kindness. It is not mainstream knowledge, for example, not to lean on wheelchairs or to grab blind people without their permission. The city still has a long way to go. But in the case of mobility impaired, and the blind, these sectors have somewhere to be, a direction to face, and a vision in mind. And accessibility could be a step in the proper direction.

The National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week is held every July.

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Visually-impaired students train for Jiujitsu under professional coaches. The students recently topped grappling tourneys in Germany.

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Jiu-Jitsu coach Hamir Achacoso finds that training PWD students is easier than training “sighted” people. “They’re more eager to learn,” he said.

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PWDs at the Davao School for the Blind go through routine skills trainings.

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