For Indonesians With Disabilities, Finally an Opportunity to Thrive
Ulma Haryanto & Anita Rachman
In November 2011, the House of Representatives ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, four years after the country became a signatory.
Indonesia was among the first 83 countries to sign the convention.
Gufroni Sakaril, chairman of the Indonesian Disabled Association (PPCI), said the ratification provided a foundation to revise the outdated 1997 Law on People with Disabilities.
“The new law should be rights-oriented and view people with disabilities as the subject, not an object of government charity programs like the previous law,” Gufroni said.
This change of perspective is important, he said, to enable the active participation of people living with disabilities.
“No more looking at a disabled person and thinking that they cannot live on their own without help from others,” Gufroni said. “With the proper facilities they can, and be productive.”
Saharuddin Daming, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) who was part of the team that drafted the new law, said the four-year gap between the ratification and the signing was fast for Indonesian standards.
However, he added, there is still a long way to go until a proper system and the desired social changes take place.
A 2010 study by the Social Affairs Ministry showed that there were around 2.1 million people in the country living with disabilities. At least 2 percent, or about 51,000 of them, live in Jakarta.
Those in the capital who are neglected or come from low-income families are put under the watch of Jakarta’s Social Affairs Office. According to annual surveys conducted by the office, 11,904 people last year received government aid and free training, including the 2,381 who reside in state-run housing facilities, which officially only have a capacity to shelter 1,184, and another 747 who are categorized as severely disabled and receive a monthly allowance of Rp 300,000 ($32).
Aria Indrawati, from the Mitra Netra Foundation for the blind, said state-run training and education programs had not changed much over the years.
Sri Utami, head of the elderly and disabled division at Jakarta’s Social Affairs Office, said computer training for the blind was only recently introduced at several government training centers.
“We focus more on skills that can help the disabled to live and work independently,” Sri said. “Now apart from regular massages, we also provide shiatsu training.”
But Aria said this kind of training was not what was needed. “A blind person is trained to be a masseur or a musician. It’s the same with other disabilities. This indirectly helps preserve the stereotype that this is all that disabled people can do.”
For people with disabilities, the biggest handicap is not their physical condition, said Gufroni who was born with a condition that stunted the growth of both arms.
“The sense that we are inferior is the biggest handicap,” he said. “It imposes limits and builds social boundaries.”
Despite his condition, Gufroni attended regular schools, enduring taunts from others. “It made me stronger,” he said.
Like many who are visually impaired, Sugiyo, 43, had little choice but to learn how to be a masseur after high school.
“I came to Jakarta in 1989. I wanted to be able to support myself so I took a massage course,” Sugiyo said. “At the time, the only job a blind man could find was being a masseur. There were no choices.”
Born in Kebumen, Central Java, Sugiyo lost his sight when he was 3-years-old because of malnutrition. His parents kept him out of school because of his disability. When he was 10, they died and Sugiyo enrolled in a state-run boarding school for the blind in Temanggung so he would not be a burden to his siblings.
Had he not been introduced to the Mitra Netra Foundation, Sugiyo probably would have never had the confidence or the skills to write 10 computer manuals for the blind.
“The foundation started computer training for the blind in 1992, and Sugiyo was one of our first students,” Aria said.
Through the foundation, Sugiyo pursued a newfound interest in foreign languages. He learned English and later took more computer workshops abroad before becoming a trainer at the foundation.
“Very few people with disabilities come from families that believe that they can do things like normal people,” Aria said.
She added that even though she had impaired vision, she and her family were convinced she could study in a normal school. “I had to pay people to read books to me because there were few books in braille and [computer] programs that converted text to speech were unheard of,” she said.
Widespread beliefs linking disabilities to past sins or bad karma also help bring shame to some families.
“In our surveys, not all family members admit to having a relative with disabilities,” said the Jakarta Social Office’s Sri. “This limits the effectiveness of our programs because we cannot allocate resources.”
Since its establishment in 1991, Mitra Netra Foundation’s aim has been to provide assistance to the blind.
“We provide education, work, training material in braille, audio books, computer training as well as advocacy,” Aria said.
The foundation was among the first to provide computer training for blind people and is active in lobbying companies to hire more disabled people.
“It is very hard to convince them. It took us a year to lobby [an Indonesian conglomerate] to hire two blind people as phone operators,” she said.
Gufroni said his association was campaigning for an inclusive community.
“First we need to change the mind-set of people living with disabilities and society, starting from using the term ‘penyandang disabilitas’ [people with disabilities] instead of the more common ‘penyandang cacat’ [people with deformities],” he said.
“An inclusive society means that people with disabilities are involved and considered in all aspects of life,” he said. “Because once people with disabilities are accommodated, so is everyone.”
Gufroni also said more political will was needed from the government.
“People with disabilities are not the responsibility of only the Social Affairs Ministry but also other ministries such as legal and human rights, transportation, manpower and transmigration, education, even defense and security,” he said.
Komnas HAM’s Saharuddin said the establishment of a national commission to oversee this kind of coordination as well as to monitor compliance would be regulated in the new law.
“We hope that before the end of the year we can submit a draft to the Social Affairs Ministry before forwarding it to the House,” he added.