Podcast: Making School Accessibility Philippine Policy
By Regina Pasion, December 8, 2021
A Filipina fourth-grader who uses a wheelchair for mobility returns to school to find that this year her classes will be on an upper floor where there are no ramps or accessible bathrooms. She will have to be carried, every day, by friends or a caregiver, or she can drop out of school. This heartbreaking situation, and the choices for Filipinos, are unfortunately all too real.
In the Philippines, there are many laws and policies that call for disability inclusion. Yet, a recent analysis commissioned by The Asia Foundation found that the lives of people with disabilities are still fraught with challenges, including inaccessible buildings and infrastructure, inaccessible transportation, and obstacles to education and healthcare, to meaningful employment, and to full participation in public life.
The World Health Organization estimates that 12–15 percent of any given population will have some form of disability. The importance of disability-inclusive policies is so widely recognized that in 2008 the United Nations ratified the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The Philippines’ commitment to the UNCRPD is the country’s most recent recognition of the rights and needs of people with disabilities. It joins other Philippine laws including the Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities and the Accessibility Law for Public Infrastructure.
But even the best laws and policies will fail without conscientious implementation. A 2009 report by Disability Rights Promotion International and Katipunan ng May Kapansanan sa Pilipinas found that too many people with disabilities in the Philippines suffered violations of their human rights in the areas of family, work, school, and community. These violations were of many kinds, said the report, and included “overt discrimination and unequal treatment, disrespect of difference, erosion of dignity, and denial of accessibility and exclusion.”
The Asia Foundation recently supported an up-to-date analysis of current laws and policies in the disability sector and the gaps that remain. The new study, Philippine Disability Sector Research: An Initial Analysis of Access to Social and Public Services, Education, Work and Employment, and Civic Participation and Governance, concluded that, despite the passage of many supportive laws and policies in the Philippines, people with disabilities still face significant barriers. Furthermore, the report found no discernable improvement in the last decade that can be directly attributed to the efforts of the government. A decade or more after the 2009 report, people with disabilities still do not receive the support they need to live an independent and meaningful life.
A major failing, the study found, was a lack of basic infrastructure to accommodate people with disabilities—infrastructure such as ramps, handrails, accessible toilets, and tactile paving for the visually impaired. Most public buildings simply do not comply with the nation’s Accessibility Law, and accessibility features for people with mobility, hearing, and visual impairments continue to be absent from public buildings.
This omission is particularly glaring in schools. For example, while ramps and other accessibility features can be found on the ground floors of many school buildings, there are no such features for going from one building to another. In some cases, students with mobility impairment must be carried to their classrooms by their caretakers, especially classrooms that are not on the ground floor. This failure to accommodate students with disabilities inevitably contributes to their low enrollment rates. Some students who use wheelchairs find it difficult to access school toilets. These incidents have given rise to bullying, further discouraging students with disabilities from attending school.
The design of school buildings is not just a problem for students. In the Philippines, schools are used as polling places. During natural disasters, schools often serve as evacuation centers. Noncompliance with accessibility laws for public infrastructure therefore not only affects the rights of people with disabilities to an education; it also limits their ability to vote and leaves them in harm’s way during natural disasters.
Responding to this challenge, Coalitions for Change (CfC), a program of The Asia Foundation and the Australian Embassy in the Philippines, has been working to help make disability inclusion policies more responsive. With our local partners—passionate individuals in and out of government and advocacy groups from the disability sector—CfC has been spotlighting the gaps and blind spots in the formulation and implementation of policies for disability inclusion.
On November 2, 2021, the Department of Education released its Policy Guidelines on the Provision of Educational Programs and Services for Learners with Disabilities in the K to 12 Basic Education Program (Order 44/2021). The policy is meant to ensure that department programs address the needs of students with disabilities by laying out comprehensive guidelines for inclusive education in schools, particularly in the core teaching and learning processes.
CfC and our partners saw the drafting of this new policy as an important opportunity for dialogue with policymakers. In particular, early versions of the guidelines did not specify how new and existing school facilities should be designed or modified to achieve accessibility, and we worked with policymakers to ensure that specifications to make school buildings more accessible would be included in the new policy. The policy also expanded to require all school personnel, not just teachers, to be aware of disability-inclusion principles.
The policy guidelines issued in November 2021 now systematically describe how programs and services in the schools will be delivered in a disability-inclusive manner, from the fundamental teaching and learning process to the incorporation of accessibility features in school buildings. It’s a game-changer for schools, and it can potentially be adapted to the rest of the government’s infrastructure programs.
December 3 was the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As important as it is to celebrate our progress towards inclusion, the Philippines still has far to go. To truly celebrate this day, policies must be revisited and improved, and their implementation must be closely monitored, not just for the schools, but for the entire disability sector. We need to better identify the barriers that people with disabilities face each day, and ensure that schools, and public infrastructure more broadly, are designed to facilitate their full participation in economic, political, and social life.
Regina Pasion is a senior program officer with The Asia Foundation’s Coalitions for Change in the Philippines. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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