PBDN Steering Committee Members doing the hand sign for PBDN meaning "connect".

Working Beyond Barriers: Philippine Business and Disability Network advocates for diverse and inclusive workplaces

July 29, 2022

More than a billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s total population, are living with some form of disability. In the Philippines, results of the National Disability Prevalence Survey showed that in 2016, around 12 percent of Filipinos aged 15 and older experienced severe disability. Yet, even until today, Persons with Disability are still often stereotyped, stigmatized, and discriminated against.

Persons with Disability face a number of societal barriers, which includes lack of access to opportunities to quality education and employment. In recent years, however, positive movement toward inclusivity in the workplace has become more evident.

In line with the National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation (NDPR) Week, the Philippine Business and Disability Network (PBDN), together with its members, partners, and sponsors, held “Working Beyond Barriers”, a two-day online conference from July 20-21, 2022. The event shed some light about the opportunities and challenges in disability inclusion in the workplace, and also tackled current and potential policies and practices that further promote participation and representation of Persons with Disability.

As a country-level platform, PBDN is a group for and by businesses that works toward more inclusive and barrier-free workplaces for Persons with Disability. It is currently a 22-member network, led by its current Steering Committee, which are JPMorgan Chase & Co., IBM, PayPal, Asurion, and Citihub. It believes that anyone — especially businesses — can open more opportunities for Persons with Disability to participate in, and productively contribute to their communities through its 3Cs mission: “Connect, Capacitate, and Collaborate.”

“We Connect companies to Person with Disability talents; we Capacitate companies to promote and build disability-inclusive workplaces; and we Collaborate with different stakeholders to improve the workforce participation of Persons with Disability,” says Pixie Javier-Gutierrez, representing JPMorgan Chase & Co., the present chair of the PBDN Steering Committee.

The Need to Challenge Misconceptions

It is a sad reality that many Persons with Disability are often subject to stigma and misconception. These can have a deep and wide-reaching impact on the lives of Persons with Disability, affecting their performance in school, the workplace, and within their own communities.

For many Persons with Disability, finding and sustaining work is a challenge. Jürgen Menze, a Disability Inclusion Officer of International Labour Organization Global Business and Disability Network (ILO GBDN), of which the PBDN is a member of as one of the 30+ National Business and Disability Networks (NBDN) around the world, says that “business leaders are essential to change the perceptions about Persons with Disability when it comes to the employment because, too often, misconceptions about what a Person with Disability can and cannot do at work are still prevalent.”

Liza Sales, a Person with Orthopedic Disability, cited this same challenge. “After college, I looked for a job in line with my coursework: computer design and programming. Every time I passed an exam and training, a lot of companies wouldn’t hire me because of their preconceived notion that I wasn’t fit for the job.”

This discrimination did not stop Liza, who became a federation president of her barangay for six years, an active champion for Persons with Disability and was even cited for her bravery. Now, Liza works for a pharmaceutical company.

Susan Scott-Parker, founder of Business Disability Forum UK, the first NBDN globally, stresses that reasonable adjustment is one of the keys into building a community without barriers. She believes that “to be able to treat the people fairly, we need to treat them differently.” Reasonable adjustment is not special treatment but rather a necessity to maintain diversity and inclusion in the workplace because every person has intersecting identities, and disability is just only one part of this identity.

Opportunities through Policies and Practices

In the Philippines, there are laws and policies present to safeguard the rights of Persons with Disability such as RA 7277: Magna Carta For Persons with Disabilities that was eventually amended to RA 9442 and RA 10754 which details their expanded benefits and privileges, and the BP 344, otherwise known as the Accessibility Law.

Apart from the laws mentioned, Atty. Krizelle Ramos, the Chief of the Programs Management Division of the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) emphasized the importance of Equal Opportunity for Employment, found within RA 10524, which endeavors to eliminate discrimination against and increase opportunities for Persons with Disability.

“There is a move to change the word ‘encourage’, because right now only the government is mandated to have the 1% of the plantilla positions to be allotted for Persons with Disabilities. For private corporations the term used by the law is just ‘encourage’, so hopefully that is passed,” says Atty. Ramos.

There are also various government programs such as the PESO Employment Information System (PEIS), Government Internship Program, Trabaho Negosyo Kabuhayan, Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Integrated Livelihood Program, and DOLE Employees' Compensation Commission’s Katulong at Gabay Sa Manggagawang May Kapansanan (KaGabay) Program.

But despite these, why are there still underlying issues with work inclusivity and equal opportunities for Persons with Disability? Implementations of these laws are limited, lacking monitoring and clarity, which then result in persisting barriers such as in the attitudinal, physical, communication, and institutional aspects.

“We have a collective responsibility. Upscaling inclusivity of the workplace for Persons with Disability is a goal toward the right direction,” says Atty. Karen Trayvilla, Director IV of DOLE - Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns.

Knowing where to start and getting the right data are some of the challenges faced by companies who want to be inclusive. The pandemic also further challenged them when it comes to hiring or retaining personnel. For role models, businesses can look to PayPal, IBM, Asurion, JPMorgan, Bayer, and Manulife as these are some of the companies that have an inclusive environment for Persons with Disability.

John Nicholls, the Country Site Lead of PayPal, says that “there is no single formula that can accommodate every strand of Persons with Disability, that is why in PayPal Philippines, we have this framework called ‘Equity Tweaks.’”  “Great management involves treating Persons with Disability equally, supporting them on their path to realizing their full potential, and not segregating them. Out of the more than a thousand employees in our organization, one of the best performers that we have is a Person with Disability. Therefore, the answer to the question ‘can a Person with Disability perform at the same level as those who are not?’ My answer is a resounding ‘yes!’”

Furthermore, supporting and implementing vocational training opportunities is another solution. Building a pipeline of skilled Persons with Disability talent through vocational training can help ensure that Persons with Disability can become confident and productive in the workplace.

“Those who don't graduate or have proper secondary education represent nearly 80% of the working poor,” says Caitlin de Sotto, a program coordinator for Economic Empowerment of Project Inclusion Network (PIN), a non-profit organization which serves as the technical secretariat of PBDN. She mentions how investing in access to quality education, such as vocational training, is one the most effective ways to combat poverty.

“The battles that we face cannot be faced alone,” says Atty. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, chairperson of PIN. This problem does not only affect the persons with diverse abilities but everyone. “It is best that we gather allies and friends, who believe in a just and humane society where everyone’s rights are protected, especially the neglected ones, the Persons with Disability.”

To provide more opportunities, it is important for organizations to implement proper job matching. Panya Boonsirithum, founder and CEO of Citihub, an MSME, says that their company now has more than 20 Persons with Disability, and saw how they can perform at par, or even better, than non-Persons with Disability. With job matching, a Person with Disability can do as well as any person can.

For Sam Padilla, managing director of Bayer Philippines, diversity means “inviting them to the party, while inclusion is asking them to dance with you in the party.” It’s not just about inviting them, “it’s also asking them — connecting with them.”

“To build awareness, to increase acceptance, and improve advancement of Persons with Disability for an inclusive workplace.  This is the mission for each of (the PBDN) member companies,” says Dr. Rex Bernardo, president of PIN. “We will continue to promote disability inclusion through peer-to-peer support and exchange, development of technical ability, as well as providing a voice for businesses on disability issues.”

Road Ahead for PBDN

Launched in January 2020, the PBDN aims to strengthen the group’s advocacy in the following years. “If we make our companies better, we also have a better society. If we better our society, we better our world. We start doing right when we treat Persons with Disability fairly,” says Grant Javier, Executive Director of PIN.

The “Working Beyond Barriers” Conference is one of the first steps in fulfilling PBDN’s mission to strengthen connections through networking and innovation.

Bless Adriano, a youth with disability leader from KASALI or Kabataang Sama-samang Lumalaban para sa Inklusyon shares, “I am physically blind, but I can see the path you (PBDN) are building — a sustainable and inclusive society for us. PBDN, together with its partners, makes us braver.”

Disability awareness has improved significantly over the years, and the entire world is already making great strides in the correct direction. The PBDN is dedicated to promoting these developments, to share inclusive practices, and to keep an open mind to innovate — all for the empowerment and better representation of Persons with Disability in society. So if you are looking to help break down the barriers, there is no better time than right now.

Learn how to become a PBDN member company through emailing them at pbdn@projectinclusion.ph.

Working Beyond Barriers - Person with Disability Panel. Upper left is Grant Javier, moderator of the session and Executive Director of Project Inclusion Network (Technical Secretariat of PBDN), Upper right is Roilan Marlang, Person with Autism working in the trade industry, Lower left is Sareena Calonzo, Deaf person with BPO experience, and Lower right is Liza Sales, Person with Orthopedic Disability working in a pharmaceutical company.