Here’s how you can properly support PWDs
We should emphasize that PWDs aren’t limited to people who live with physical impairments but also those who have sensory, intellectual and mental disabilities
Feb 2, 2020
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 15 percent or over one billion of the world’s population live with some form of disability; in the Philippines a 2010 census of population and housing indicates that there are at least 1.4 million Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the Philippines. But it’s also important to note that PWDs are not just limited to people who live with physical impairments but those who have sensory, intellectual and mental disabilities.
We probably encounter them every day or you might even know a person living with a disability and if you clicked on this article to know how best you could make them feel that you care and are there for them, we hope you can find these ways to be useful and insightful.
Do not refer to them as “disabled”
Whether we like it or not, words shape a big chunk of our reality and the labels we use on things or even each other affect the way we perceive them.
When we plainly refer to someone as disabled, for lack or ignorance of a better word, we run the risk of amplifying their limitations and ascribing it to every aspect of their lives. This generalizes them to the point where they may assume that this implies they can’t go beyond their limitations.
We call or refer to them as people with disabilities because they are exactly that, a person living with a disability but, just like everyone else, can still go on living their lives to do great things despite certain hindrances.
Learn better ways to communicate with PWDs
To reiterate, PWDs are really not just persons who have physical handicaps; we may find that people who have sensory impairments need to be communicated to in a specific manner. Thinking about it now, I wish we had just been required to learn sign language instead of being taught how to write in cursive. It would have been more useful and universal.
Nevertheless, it’s not too late to learn this language that is not only at the core of breaking this communication barrier between us and people who have a speech or hearing impairment, but is also a necessary step towards broadening inclusivity.
Learning sign language can make people with speech or hearing impairments secure knowing they too can strike up a conversation and be understood.
On the other hand, people with visual impairments may also have trouble identifying strangers talking to them. Thus, introducing yourself before you really tell them something should be common courtesy. Moreover, resorting to buffer may just make them feel more isolated as social media influencer Holly Tuke, in her blog Life of a blind girl says:
“One thing that annoys me is when people speak to the person I’m with, rather than speaking to me. I may not be able to see you, but this doesn’t mean that I can’t have a conversation with you, introduce yourself”
Respect PWD allocated areas and facilities
These may seem like convenient places for you, but designated areas and facilities like PWD sections in public transportation, wheelchair ramps, and cubicles in public comfort rooms are necessary for people who have a handicap. An acquaintance of mine relays his struggle with this:
“When you’re going upwards on a ramp it would take all your energy to stop the wheels and let them through. There are also people who tend to use the PWD-restrooms because of the wide space inside. However, these cubicles are reserved for a reason and it’s not as if we had a choice to utilize the normal cubicle toilets.”
Not respecting the fact that these were made for them by using these places for our advantage, makes getting around harder for them that it already can be.
Do not make fun of them even if they make fun of themselves
In this era of memes, self-deprecating humor or instances when people make fun of themselves, are common and can undeniably be funny; that is, if you are well-aware of this person’s quirks.
This being said, I also know PWDs who joke about their struggles; however, one of them reveals that this is actually a coping mechanism. He didn’t say this explicitly, but I think it should follow that it’s only okay for him to make fun of himself, no one else. Moreover, this should never be an open door to join in or even laugh with them because you might as well be laughing at their struggles and this should never be a laughing matter for you.
When in doubt, ask.
Contrary to what they’re usually portrayed, many PWDs are independent and, despite the title of this article, are capable of supporting themselves. This is why if you would like to help or feel like they may be struggling, you should ask first if they need help before doing anything.
“I really appreciate it when people ask for my consent or permission should they wish to help me. A simple ‘Do you need help?’ would be a better reaction than immediately helping a PWD who seems to be struggling (such as getting up a ramp or an elevator). The unnecessary special treatment can be a constant reminder of [our] limitations,” the acquaintance of mine further mentioned.
In the same sense, when they say that they can do something, avoid insisting and trust that they can do it because sometimes support can come in the form of just letting people be.
Reassurance that you’re there for them
There really is no simple way of recognizing someone who is struggling with a mental disability; this is why it’s important that we be gentle with people in general because we don’t know what anyone may be going through. A stranger sitting next to you might be fidgety and may come off as annoying, but maybe the reason why he can’t sit still is because he’s bothered with something.
The simple act of letting them know that you’re there for them and are ready to listen could really help in anchoring themselves back to shore. Someone I know who has a major depressive disorder told me this:
“When I have a depressive episode, I need to be heard. I need to feel that I am here and I am safe. It’s best for a family member or friend to be observant, and see if there are symptoms acting up again. It is also best to check in on our friends. Invite them over coffee (if their doctor allows them to have coffee), invite them out.”
Donate to programs that support PWDs or create new opportunities for them
Photo courtesy of Inquirer.net
More than anything or anyone else, the system needs to support people with disabilities. This may be difficult to do all at once but at the end of the day, the system I’m referring to is something we all contribute to. While we are seeing developments from our government and other sectors like adding new lanes and benefits for them, there is still more to be done.
PWDs need more job opportunities, facilities, media representation, and a wide range of programs that promote their interests. This is where supporting organizations that advocate and further PWDs well-beings becomes key. Below is a list of local organizations you might want to look into and probably donate to:
Equals by Philippine Council of Organizations on Disability and Empowerment – a non-profit NGO, an online job and livelihood resource hub connecting PWDs seeking employment or entrepreneurship in the Philippines.
The Philippine Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled – a non-profit organization promoting preventive measures against disability and rehabilitation activities for PWDs nationwide.
Alay sa may mga Kapansanan Association Inc. (AKAI) – a non-government and non-stock organization that has been organizing a variety of livelihood workshops and seminars as well as giving out wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids and other assistive devices as well as free medical services to PWDs in many areas.
Cerebral Palsy Association of the Philippines – first and only private NGO that aims to cater to the needs, care, and management of persons with cerebral palsy and other motor-related disabilities. Recently, they have been in charge of organizing local paralympics or sports events for athletes with disabilities.
ChildFam Philippines and Possibilities Psychological Solutions – an institution that offers counseling, assessment, and training services to individuals who deal with stress, depression, anxiety, and other well-being concerns.
Kaisahan ng Magulang at Anak na May kapansanan (KAISAKA), Inc. – is a community-based rehabilitation program for PWDs and their families based in the urban poor community of Malate, Manila. Their programs and services include: early intervention classes, home tutorials, occupational/physical therapy, special socialization activities, assessments and referrals.
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