“When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we are investing in our common future.”
--- António Guterres (Secretary-General of the United Nations)
About 15% of the world’s population experience disability (World Health Organization, 2021). Education, healthcare, and employment are likely to be less accessible for them. They are also likely to experience higher rates of violence, neglect, and abuse (United Nations, 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic further aggravates the inequities that limit their participation in society. As larger-scale groups continue to take initiatives such as the formulation of a Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19 and guidelines for practice during the pandemic, we can also do our part. How? For this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (PWD), we echo the call of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be a disability ALLY.
A: Acknowledge and respect individual experiences and disabilities
We can start working towards inclusivity by understanding PWDs’ perceptions of their disabilities. Respect does not mean looking at a PWD with sympathy, oversimplifying how we talk to a person with a disability, or making unnecessary remarks such as those made by some of the people in this video. Respect for persons with disabilities is grounded in disability sensitivity (i.e., basic etiquette when interacting with PWDs) and in sincerity in treating them as equals. For instance, we can ask before extending help and we can talk directly to them rather than bypassing them. We can listen to their experiences and empathize with them. Take a look at the stories of Marites Valencia Odarbe, Jay Monterola, Winston Go, Rocel Sison, and Carlos and Friends.
L: Learn about different disability types
Not all disabilities are visible. The term disability is defined by CDC (2020) as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” These limitations and restrictions may manifest in mobility, managing self-care, and establishing interpersonal relationships among others. Individuals with illnesses that are not visible such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and mental illness are also considered PWDs (Disabled World, 2021). Learn more about their rights here.
L: Leverage your influence to promote accessibility and inclusion
We all have different roles in the community, and these roles entail unique circles of influence. Our words and actions can affect the perspectives of the people around us, so why not maximize our platform to take steps towards improving the overall well-being of PWDs in our community? For example, healthcare professionals can work together with public servants to ensure that adequate policies, accessible programs, and inclusive practices in the community are in place. Business owners can provide employment opportunities for PWDs (see how PWD employment in the Philippines works here). Even social media users can advocate for accessibility and inclusion when they share awareness campaigns with their friends online.
Apart from using our roles in the community, we can also advocate alongside organizations that share the same passion for promoting the rights of PWDs. Look for initiatives that share our vision for inclusivity and accessibility and support them, whether through volunteering or contributing to their cause. These are just a few examples of projects and organizations we can look into: Tinig AAC, Operation Smile, SmileTrain, Special Achievers, and ATRIEV.
Y: Yield the floor to people with disabilities to help identify and eliminate barriers
In our pursuit of a disability-inclusive and accessible post-COVID world, the active involvement of PWDs is vital. When we conceptualize advocacy initiatives for disability responsiveness, it is best to include them in the process. We can consult them about their community’s needs and ways to increase disability inclusion because they directly experience the barriers we are trying to identify and eliminate. ATRIEV hosting disability sensitivity workshops for the general public, Brina Maxino appealing to world leaders for education rights of PWDs, and Ana Kristina Arce inspiring the younger generation of the Deaf community to hone their research skills for advocacy—are only a few examples of how PWDs can effectively lead and self-advocate.
As we strive to transition into a post-pandemic era, know that we have a part to play in ensuring that no one is left behind. With PWDs as both our partners and leaders in this journey, we can better work towards achieving disability inclusion and accessibility for all. On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let us become a disability ALLY!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Become a Disability A.L.L.Y. in Your Community and Promote Inclusion for All. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/humandevelopment/become-a-disability-ALLY.html
Disabled World. (2021). Invisible Disabilities: List and General Information. https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/types/invisible/
United Nations. (2021). COVID-19 Outbreak and Persons with Disabilities. https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/covid-19.html World Health Organization. (2021). Disability and health. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability-and-health
Written by: Paolo Capati, Jen Leynes, Kyla Lu, Paula Tison