Prior to the pandemic, Persons with Disability already faced multiple layers of marginalization, as well as various challenges and barriers that prevented them from becoming fully engaged in society. The spread of COVID-19, a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, only placed further burden on Persons with Disability and their families, and among the major problems include the rise of unemployment because of the diminishing opportunities in the job market.
Project Inclusion Network (PIN), a non-profit organization supported by UNILAB Foundation and dedicated to empowering Persons with Disability to fully participate and contribute to their communities, recently conducted a timely and relevant study called “Moving Toward Disability-Inclusive Recovery in Employment and Livelihood in the time of COVID-19.
The study, implemented through the support of global financial services firm JPMorgan Chase & Co., and endorsed by national government agencies -- 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) -- aims to see how the pandemic affected Persons with Disability’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 focused on three major methodologies, namely: key informant interviews, administration of a national survey, and conduct of focus group discussions.
From July 14 to August 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% 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.
“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,” says Atty. Ana Dione, Undersecretary of Regional Operations, Labor Standards, and Special Concerns Cluster, DOLE.
Because of their limited ability to adjust, individuals who kept their jobs became more vulnerable. According to the responses, 20% 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% of Persons with Disability respondents who ran businesses, resulting in lower sales and the temporary or permanent closure of their businesses. The research team of PIN 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 Persons with Disability 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,” explains Director Lydia Guevarra of Resource Generation and Management Service, DTI.
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 Persons with Disability.
The results regarding this were not encouraging. In fact, only 38% or 235 respondents indicate having received cash from the SAP, while 18% 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 Persons with Disability is to never leave anyone behind,” says Congresswoman Ma. Lourdes Arroyo from the 5th District of Negros Occidental. She stated that the NCDA is preparing for the future needs of Persons with Disability 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 Persons with Disability.
The need to provide opportunities for Persons with Disability, 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 Persons with Disability 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,” says Dr. Rex Bernardo, President and Trustee of Project Inclusion Network.
With the help of the study of PIN, the voices of Persons with Disability 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 in the midst of a ravaging pandemic, everyone should work hand-in-hand to find ways to work toward a more inclusive, accessible, sustainable, and barrier-free world for Persons with Disability in our society.
The full copy of the report can be read through the following links : https://bit.ly/PINStudyReport and https://bit.ly/PINStudyReport_AccessiblePDF for the accessible version.