If Humpty Dumpty was made to fall, why was Humpty Dumpty made in the first place? If Humpty Dumpty knew that they would fall, would they have sat on the wall? Imagine if you were Humpty Dumpty, sitting on a wall that continues to grow, so much so that a fall from the wall would be a fatal blow? Imagine another person being able to climb the wall with such ease, while you’re left behind like a shadow cast in the dark. Imagine if the words you scream never left your throat as you watch others leave nothing but a shadow of doubt on you. This is their plight.
WHO ARE THEY?
Within the pandemic, there has been the lack of equitable distribution of basic goods and necessities that have left communities susceptible to the horrors of the health and economic crisis from economic problems such as negative supply shock to mental health issues such as depression from isolation. Aside from this, the shift to online learning has worsened the inaccessibility of education which curtailed its accessibility to minority communities such as the people with disabilities (PWDs).
According to the Department of Health (DOH), PWDs or people with disabilities refer to long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which may hinder their interactions and participation in society on an equal basis with others (Department of Health, n.d.). This would mean that PWDs encompass a wide array of people, more than what is simply visually perceived. Nonetheless, it has to be established that they are all subjected to the premise of the arbitrary reality of life as they were placed into that situation that they do not deserve to be in. With this, they face greater vulnerabilities to overcome the different economic and social barriers that they face.
To provide more clarity, the term PWDs is the more politically correct term in comparison to words like “disabled people,” “the differently-abled,” and “the challenged.” Focus has to be drawn to PWDs as individuals instead of limiting them and trapping them into the box of their limitations.
Despite the changes brought by an ever evolving society, the lack of representation and accountability for the PWD sector has only been exacerbated by quarantine restrictions. They have been disproportionately affected with struggles that simply cannot be left unheard.
HOW ARE THEY AFFECTED…
PWDs had already faced concurrent issues prior to the pandemic such as the struggle of their impairments, curbed finances, and the likes. Aside from these already pressing issues, the neverending repercussions brought by the coronavirus has become a constant struggle for them to cope with. These take a toll on them physically, socially, and financially.
...in terms of accessibility?
Access to Basic Necessities
To say that PWDs are affected financially during the pandemic is simply the tip of the iceberg of the issue that they are struggling with. Their overall state of financial crises depletes their access to the already-scarce basic necessities because of the pandemic. Specifically, 46% of PWDs do not have access to these services due to the lack of purchasing power (UNICEF, 2021). Additionally, 43% of them have no access to the much-needed public transportation. As stated by Inquirer.net, the public utility vehicles do not support people with physical disabilities as their unique needs had not been taken into consideration by the public. Other reasons that limit PWDs from accessing basic goods are the minute amount of shops and pharmacies as well as the mobility restrictions that require assistance from another person. Overall, four out of five respondents find the aforementioned as issues.
Access to Basic Healthcare
Furthermore, their lack of accessibility does not end with simply the essentials as they would also call for healthcare and rehabilitation services. Although this is extremely necessary for PWDs, health and rehabilitation service centers might also close down, making it more difficult for them to access basic healthcare. Heightened inaccessibility to needed assistance and guidance from rehabilitation staff is also perceived. This would increase strain for the PWDs during interactions without the aid of healthcare professionals who understand their needs. Consequently, the difficulty of communicating needs to abled persons increases risk of discrimination that may become mentally-taxing for PWDs.
Access to Education
Chapter Two of the Magna Carta for PWDs states that the government has the obligation to ensure that PWDs are given access to quality education and ample opportunities to develop their skills. With this, the State has the utmost responsibility to formulate and implement educational policies and programs to cater to their needs and encourage an effective learning environment. In spite of this stated clearly, PWDs are also hindered from maximizing educational opportunities. For some, effective learning requires special circumstances like face-to-face interactions or specially-built technologies and software catered to their personalized needs. However, these are made unavailable to them either because of the pandemic itself or as a result of other factors possibly being affected by the pandemic, like one's location. To exacerbate this issue, the Department of Education's 2021 National Expenditure Program has not provided any funding for the acquisition of special needs education (SPED) equipment which delegitimizes the problems that they [PWDs] face of a greater obstacle of bridging this gap during the pandemic (Magsino, 2020).
Access to Employment
PWDs already encounter inequalities due to the decreased likelihood of receiving jobs in status quo. If they do have jobs, these usually entail employment in the informal sector. With the onset of this dreadful pandemic, their economic resilience has staggered tremendously because they have less access to social insurance (United Nations Human Rights, 2020). They are also discouraged from doing work from home as there is a lack of the needed equipment which makes them rapidly drown into poverty. This lack of income burdens households with not only the shortage of finances, but also the extra costs on equipment, assistive devices, and specific goods and services that are not readily available to them due to the virus. Currently, some local government units aim to remedy this by providing cash aid to PWDs who are currently forced into isolation with limited means to work. Unfortunately, this will only serve as a temporary solution for a long-term problem that would require receiving a viable means of employment amidst the current situation.
… in terms of vulnerability?
Victims of Violence
Aside from these, they are also suffering socially as they are constantly facing discrimination due to the limitations that they face. They are often called names that include, but are not limited to “retarded,” “freaks,” “abnormal,” “midget,” and the likes. Due to the apathetic stance taken by most, this verbal abuse would later on translate into violence. According to statistics, PWDs are three times more likely to be victims of violence compared to non-disabled people. They are often the least able to recognize danger, defend themselves, and secure aid from the criminal justice system (National Research Council, 2001) which increases the likelihood of experiencing violence.
Delving deeper, gender-based violence towards young women with disabilities is significantly evident knowing that they suffer from the lack of legal capacity and access to sexual and reproductive health services making them more prone to violence (UN Women, 2020; UNFPA, 2020).
Coerced Isolation due to Vulnerabilities
Aside from this, PWDs are more likely to get infected by the virus or a more severe one due to the present weaknesses of their bodies. For people suffering with lung diseases, this worsens their situation because it increases their susceptibility to the virus with an already delicate set of lungs (Galiatsatos, 2021). Furthermore, PWDs with low immune systems are also at jeopardy because when the coronavirus enters your respiratory tract, your immune system is supposed to fight back (Brosnahan, et. al., 2020). However, for them, this would serve as an uphill battle due to the low immunity caused by their diseases. There are also some PWDs who have greater problems due to potentially stricter preventive measures and worsened inaccessibility. For example, the usage of masks prevents people with hearing impairment from reading lips. Some PWDs are also discouraged or prohibited from wearing masks due to certain respiratory illnesses, autoimmune diseases, and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder that [may] cause anxiety and panic [attacks] ( Jesus, et al., 2020; Massachusetts General Hospital, 2020; Pitrelli, 2020). This would mean that they would be forced into isolation more as opposed to others who are capable of bridging that gap by meeting with others while also following the aforementioned safety protocols. In isolation, it may be more difficult for some PWDs to perform certain tasks as this pandemic highlights the limits that they have to deal with.
These all just point to the direct problems PWDs face every day during the pandemic excluding the specific nature of their disability and specific limitations on accessibility. These different social issues have been worsened due to the increased isolation of PWDs during the pandemic. In line with this premise, they are unable to contact their healthcare service providers particularly during emergency situations which forces them to suffer from this abuse alone.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Currently, there are actions that are being done in order to remedy the situation that they are in through cash grants given by local government units. Despite these programs, they remain unsustainable to continuously aid this community as they only serve as a band-aid solution for a lifetime problem. Therefore, this necessitates the production of efficient solutions to solve these issues.
At the baseline, we must strive to raise awareness on their issues. This is important to allow the public, especially government authorities, to see their plight in order to provide more for those placed at a disadvantage. One simple misconception that needs to be corrected would be the preconceived image that PWDs are limited simply to those affecting the physical and sensory features alone. By correcting this, we are able to grasp the array of the issues that they are currently facing, lessen the discrimination that they face, and create more personalized mechanisms to empower them in their lifestyles.
This calls for an open forum where they are able to raise these concerns and issues to the government by sending letters to the barangay hall or creating petitions that can catch the attention of these officials. This can go hand-in-hand with the production of different types of research that tackle the medical, social, and economic effects of the pandemic on the PWDs in our communities in order to solidify and validate the issues that they are currently facing. Finally, we can help by sharing content and informing our peers on the issue at hand through social media so that we can establish discourse among other people to promote a culture of dialogue and understanding. We have to constantly update ourselves on these issues to create a clamor from society to solve these issues. Some of these actions may take months to accomplish, but we are never alone. If we band together to help solve these issues by clamoring for change, we would be able to accomplish these goals and empower these individuals.
Secondly, we can apply or encourage the application of PWD-friendly equipment[d] around the different barangays or communities. These equipment may include building of ramps, implementation of audio-visual street signs and aids for pedestrians, widening doorways, and utilizing lever handles instead of doorknobs (DMCI Home Communities, 2021). As stated by Architect Kenneth Descazo in an interview with Inquirer last 2018, there had only been two buildings that have passed the Accessibility Law (Batas Pambansa Blg. 344). Other buildings of both private and public sector are only twenty to sixty percent (20% - 60%) compliant to this law. This insinuates that even before the pandemic, the inaccessibility has already been evident due to the lax implementation of this law.
To prevent this, there has to be stricter implementation of the law by public officials by simulating different circumstances for PWDs. An example would be a test done by Architect Descazo and his team that entailed simulating the physically impaired by using wheelchairs. Secondly, more seminars for entrepreneurs, architects, landowners, and the like should be created to inform them about the issue and stimulate sustainable change among the forerunners and decision makers to create a more open-minded society catering to a diverse group of people. By creating an environment fuelled with awareness, we can ease their burden from having to communicate with others who cannot seem to understand them. This also encourages PWDs who are not vulnerable to the virus to go outside[e][f] to lessen their anxiety in the face of isolation and feel that they are cared for in their community.
Thirdly, demand for community-based helpdesk centers for PWDs so that in the case of an emergency or violence, they would be empowered to call for help when necessary. This can be done on virtual, telecommunication, and physical platforms. This can be done virtually through the creation of an online portal where they are able to gain access to services, employment, and forums that will also enable them to effectively receive access to cash grants from the government and non-profit organizations from home. Secondly, the telecommunications platform can be done through the creation of a hotline number. Currently, there is a telephone number on the National Council on Disability Affairs, but this number is only directly available for those in Metro Manila (as it has the 02 area code). This telephone number can be used as a hotline number by making sure that it is regularly staffed and opening this number nationwide with branches in every province. Lastly, the creation of a physical helpdesk that is easily accessible to others that can host forums, fun inclusive activities for the community, and associations in order to encourage a community-wide bond. By opening this helpdesk on different platforms, we are able to establish a preventive measure that combats violence and discrimination. This prevents others from mercilessly taking advantage of them and heartlessly discriminating against them.
Lastly, continue to educate yourself. This can be done by learning about the different types of PWDs and understanding how you can best impart a culture of understanding and togetherness. For example, it is important to be selective of the words used by avoiding words such as “defect,” “normal people,” “handicapped,” and “challenged.” Words are powerful, and using words as such redirects the focus from their humanity to their disability alone. Another important action would be to address them face-to-face as people rather than casting them aside as helpless.
To sum up the entire article[g], the inequalities that have been faced by PWDs have been ceaselessly filled with struggles and hurdles that they had to fight back alone. During the pandemic, their health, social, and educational issues have been magnified, ridiculed, and aggravated even further. Their personal uncontrollable circumstances have ultimately created this barrier between them and the rest of the world. However, we have to remember that like Humpty Dumpty, PWDs are not damsels in distress waiting to be saved. They are still people who are just waiting for the opportunity to be heard. With this in mind, we have to empower them by giving them strength and hope to plow through these barriers. As a community, we should collectively tear down these walls together—brick by brick.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,
brought a safety net for Humpty to land
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National Research Council. (2001). Crime victims with developmental disabilities: Report of a workshop. National Academies Press. Retrieved July 1, 2021 from https://www.nap.edu/read/10042/chapter/4
Pitrelli, M. B. (2020, August 07). Are there medical reasons to not wear a mask? Yes, but not many. Retrieved June 26, 2021 from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/07/what-are-medical-reasons-for-not-wearing-a-mask.html
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UNICEF (2021, May). Situation of Children with Disabilities in the Context of COVID-19: Results of Rapid Online Survey in the Philippines. Retrieved on July 16, 2021 from https://www.unicef.org/philippines/media/2476/file/Situation%20of%20Children%20with%20Disabilities%20in%20the%20Context%20of%20COVID-19.pdf
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UNFPA. (2020, May 12). Pandemic eightens vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities. Retrieved May 10, 2021 from https://www.unfpa.org/news/pandemic-heightens-vulnerabilities-persons-disabilities