‘PWDs are able and need to be part of society’: Majority of Pinoy PWDs affected by the pandemic

Published November 10, 2021, 7:46 PM

by Johannes Chua

The pandemic has exposed a lot of vulnerabilities in our society and widened the disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” This kind of division was also felt more by a segment in our population—Persons with Disability (PWDs).  

Prior to the pandemic, PWDs already faced multiple layers of marginalization, as well as various challenges and barriers that prevented them from becoming fully engaged in society. The arrival of a global pandemic further placed a burden on them and their families as a lot of PWDs in the country are breadwinners, too. 

In order to fully understand the plight of the PWDs in a pandemic, and to know how we could be informed of the appropriate way to address the issues that they face, a study was recently launched called “Moving Toward Disability-Inclusive Recovery in Employment and Livelihood in the Time of COVID-19.”  

This study was launched by Project Inclusion Network (PIN), a non-profit organization supported by UNILAB Foundation and dedicated to empowering PWDs to fully participate and contribute to their communities. The study was also implemented through the support of global financial services firm JPMorgan Chase & Co. and endorsed by various national government agencies. 

Cora Clarin, a Person with Orthopedic Disability, is head of the Persons with Disability Affairs Office of the Municipality of Cordova, Cebu.

According to a statement from PIN, the study “aims to see how the pandemic affected PWD’s access to information and services, work and entrepreneurship prospects, as well as their needs to be able to access opportunities in the new normal.” 

PIN said that it focused on three major methodologies, namely: key informant interviews, administration of a national survey, and conduct of focus group discussions. 

From July 14 to Aug. 14, 2021, a countrywide survey was conducted via online and through phone for individuals who had trouble accessing devices. There were 619 respondents coming from 15 regions across the country.   

Based on the study, “72 percent of the employed respondents reported negative effects to their income through no-work-no-pay arrangements, reduced working hours, and temporary and permanent lay-offs.”

“In terms of access to information, there is an observed lack of compliance to laws requiring provision for sign language interpreters and closed captions or subtitles, in the content of video formats making it difficult for those hard of hearing and persons with visual impairment.” 

In an online launch, proponents of the study and its government partners such as the Department of Labor and Employment Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns (DOLE-BWSC), Employees Compensation Commission (ECC), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA), learned about the findings and expressed support to find ways how to address issues facing the PWDs, especially now that there is a rise of unemployment because of the diminishing opportunities in the job market wrought about by the global pandemic.

Launch of the report, from left, top to bottom: Dr. Rex Bernardo, president of Project Inclusion Network (PIN); Grant Javier, executive director of PIN; Patricia Anne Javier-Gutierrez, Philippine head of Communications of JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Dir. Lydia Guevarra of the Department of Trade and Industry, Resource Generation and Management Service; Undersecretary Atty. Ana C. Dione of the Department of Labor and Employment, Labor Standards and Special Concerns Cluster; and Chief of Staff Nicole Arroyo Jacinto representing the office of Congresswoman Ma. Lourdes Arroyo, chairperson of the Committee on Persons with Disability.

“We will not stop working until we reach total inclusion, until everyone is heard, valued, and considered. It is our responsibility as duty-bearers that everyone’s voices are heard,” said Atty. Ana Dione, Undersecretary of Regional Operations, Labor Standards, and Special Concerns Cluster, DOLE.   

Because of the PWDs limited ability to adjust, individuals who kept their jobs became more vulnerable. According to the responses, 20 percent of the respondents work in a variety of businesses, ranging from food and beverage stalls to manufacturing companies. Moreover, the pandemic had an impact on 93 percent of PWD respondents who ran businesses, resulting in lower sales and the temporary or permanent closure of their businesses. PIN’s research team recognized the need to access capital, technical expertise, and market to support individual and group enterprises to start, earn, and grow.   

Moreover, the DTI is aware of the economic challenges and needs of the PWD community. “We understand that the pandemic has further exacerbated their need for employment opportunities. For those who wish to start their business, our agency has support programs for this,” said Director Lydia Guevarra of Resource Generation and Management Service, DTI.   

Edward, a Person with Hearing Impairment, works at Citihub as a housekeeping staff.

In terms of the key strategy to support low-income families during the early stages of the pandemic, the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) was a government initiative to equip the marginalized sectors with the means to provide for the basic needs of PWDs. 

The results, however, were not encouraging. In fact, only 38 percent or 235 respondents indicate having received cash from the SAP, while 18 percent or 111 respondents said they did not receive any form of support due to the lack of information on how, when, and where to register for the benefits; absence of assistance in registration, and absence of a person to accompany them to receive the benefit at a distribution site. 

“The battle cry of PWDs is to never leave anyone behind,” said Congresswoman Ma. Lourdes Arroyo from the 5th District of Negros Occidental. She stated that the NCDA is preparing for the future needs of PWDs by looking into increasing the required percentage of jobs reserved for them. This was complemented by ECC Executive Director Stella Banawis, who said that innovation of services, programs, and policies are now being considered for PWDs.  

The need to provide opportunities, to gain new skills through formal training, to ensure inclusivity of information, and to strengthen existing policies and support programs should be priorities by the public and private sectors, they said. 

“Let us always remember and keep in mind that PWDs are able, and need to be part of society. We need to come together now, more than ever, because inclusion only thrives and lasts when communities work together, and when the work is shared by all,” said Dr. Rex Bernardo, President and Trustee of PIN. 

With the help of the study of PIN, the voices of PWDs were heard loud and clear. Cora Clarin, a Person with Disability Affairs Officer (PDAO), stated: “We need to be consulted, we need to be heard because we are the best spokesperson for ourselves. I know that I have an important role in ensuring that our community is not left behind.” 

In a world that has become more challenging through the years, especially now that we are still reeling from the pandemic, everyone should work hand-in-hand to find ways to work toward a more inclusive, accessible, sustainable, and barrier-free world for PWDs in our society.