Children with disabilities in the Philippines are among the most vulnerable in our society. With problems such as hunger, poverty, political instability, and armed conflict among others continuously plaguing the country, the plight of children with disabilities ranks low among government’s priorities. It comes as no surprise that most of these children end up staying at home without access to education and therapy.
An immediate and practical course of action is needed to counter such a grim reality. However, one has to first answer the most basic of questions: How can we make appropriate intervention accessible even to families with limited resources? This is yet another facet of the issue that needs to be addressed. It cannot be denied that disability intervention in the Philippines comes at a steep price which consequently leads to the denial of access to proper diagnosis, therapy, and education.
What should be done then? One can look at countries of similar context to the Philippines and see how they have effectively addressed disability- related concerns despite comparable limitations. Countries like Vietnam, Togo, and India have successful programs in place that cater to children who live with visual and hearing impairments and other physical, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities. The Philippines can definitely gain valuable insights from their common practices. Here are some of those that can be readily gleaned.
The first is collaboration. Instead of relegating the plight of children with disabilities to the bottom of the totem pole, government can pursue meaningful partnerships with civic groups that have the capacity to empower stakeholders and make them partners in achieving proper intervention. In Vietnam, for example, the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) initiated a program that “provide an integrated effort to teach deaf children sign language at a very young age, helping them to get ready to learn when they enter formal primary school.” JSDF also funded a program on inclusive education for children with disabilities in Malawi which “tests innovative methods to raise enrolment among children with disabilities who are not in mainstream schools and also supports the development of an inclusive education policy.” Apart from JSDF, there is the Global Partnership for Education which financed the “building of nearly 1000 classrooms accessible by children with disabilities” in Togo. The UNICEF and LAJ Philippines- LEGO, meanwhile, continue to help fund the creation of National Centers for Children with Disabilities throughout the country, the first being housed in the Philippine General Hospital. There are multiple opportunities for collaboration with a whole host of capable NGOs that can truly make a difference.
The second is capacity building. We are not just talking about the teachers but the larger community as well. Parents and families should have a working understanding of their children’s intervention program so they can do the same at home. Classmates, friends, and relatives should be reminded that children with disabilities come with rights protected by the law just as they have. A community-based approach where intervention is concerned is both practical and sustainable.
Finally, disability-related concerns should be appropriately contextualized so that they can be properly responded to. Intervention should encompass factors that affect children with disabilities be it the nature of their location, monetary capacity, or even culturally-driven stigma when it comes to disabilities. It is a fact that most of the research on disability intervention have been done in the ideal global north where resources are readily available and systems are already in place to provide maximum support for children with disabilities. Things are not as rosy in the global south where countries cannot devote as much time and resources to this particular sector because of other pressing concerns. This is the very reason why sharing best practices among global south communities can go a long way so we can make the most out of so little.
We can no longer overlook the need to address the plight of children with disabilities in the Philippines. If we continue to allow these to fester, more and more children will be deprived of a chance to have a better quality of life. The time to act is now.