Australian Embassy
The Philippines

MR141203: Message to mark the International Day of Persons with Disability

Message to mark the International Day of Persons with Disability, 3 December 2014

by Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Bill Tweddell

The 22nd International Day of People with Disability provides an opportunity to reflect on how we can work together to create an inclusive global society for all people, regardless of their disability.

On this international day, I am reminded that people with disability are the world's largest and most disadvantaged minority, accounting for around 15 per cent of the global population or 1 billion people. Collectively people with disability have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disability.

As Ambassador to the Philippines, I am honoured to have met inspirational Filipinos living with disability such as Grace Padaca, perhaps the best known advocate for Filipinos with disability serving in government, and Australia Awards scholars Bernard Jimenez and Tassja Ramos, who are using their Australian education to raise awareness on people with disabilities (PWD) issues. I celebrate their success and those of other people who have overcome barriers to be change-makers, to be leaders in their fields.

The Australian Government is committed to supporting people with disabilities to improve the quality of their lives through access to the same opportunities for participation, contribution, decision making and economic wellbeing as others.

In the Philippines, Australia is working with a network of organisations that advocate for the approximately 9 million Filipinos with disability.

We know that people with disabilities want the chance to make decisions about their own lives, have a voice in their communities and to play a role in shaping their futures. This is why Australia supported the multi-sector program Fully-Abled Nation (FAN), with the goal of increasing the participation of PWDs in the electoral process. We recognize that s stronger political representation is important in breaking barriers for people with disabilities.

Too often it is people with disabilities who are left behind in social and economic development. One way to address this is to ensure that Filipinos with disabilities have access to inclusive education in schools. We support the Department of Education in delivering disability-inclusive programs and facilities through the Basic Education Sector Transformation (BEST) program. School classrooms that will be built under the BEST program will have access ramps for students with disability aside from other universal design principles for accessibility.

Another way Australia is helping address social and economic barriers for PWDs is through the Embassy’s Direct Aid Program (DAP), which supports community projects that bring about sustainable outcomes for marginalised sectors. One of the projects supported by DAP benefits residents of Tahanan Walang Hagdanan (TWH). Through the small grants scheme, Australia supported the construction of dignified facilities within TWH and the expansion of a livelihood project for PWD residents and their families.

Protecting the most vulnerable is a key element in ensuring development for all. Through the Philippines-Australia Community Assistance Program (PACAP), we have supported projects to assist vulnerable groups, such as children with disabilities. Recently, I was honoured to attend the launch of the guide book on “Parenting Children with Disabilities” developed with support from the Australian Government. This book builds on the training program delivered in Negros Oriental, Bukidnon and Zamboanga to 400 parents whose children are living with disability.

Another advocacy the Embassy supports is the “Break the Silence” campaign, to intensify education in hard to reach rural communities on the issue of deaf child sexual abuse. We work with a network of organisations in the Visayas and Mindanao to deliver training and workshops in communities and government agencies to prevent abuse of deaf children.

Australia is working with key partners to improve the inclusion of people with disabilities in disaster risk reduction efforts and in times of humanitarian crises. Through our humanitarian assistance, we work on improving the knowledge of humanitarian organisations and workers on people with disabilities concerns towards ensuring they are more visible in the assessment processes and able to access relief services including specialised medical response and assistive devices. This was evident in our response to typhoons Washi, Bopha and Haiyan, when Australia worked with Handicap International to reach about 8,000 vulnerable individuals who received direct assistance of rehabilitation care, mobility aids and assistive devices.

We and our partners in the Philippine Red Cross, Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines and other non-government organisations are also working to ensure concerns of people with disabilities are captured in community-based disaster risk reduction and management by encouraging them to participate in planning and activities such as mapping, understanding early warnings, and emergency drills. Our partnership with national and local governments and with Rappler for “Project Agos,” an information technology aggregation platform, will help towards improving the inclusion of people with disabilities in disaster preparedness and response. This supports the United Nations agenda this year on promoting the role of technology in disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction and emergency response.

On this significant day, I would urge all to reflect and act to help break barriers for people with disability. It is all our duty to ensure that on the journey to inclusive development, no one should be left behind. Australia remains firmly committed to working with partner countries like the Philippines to bring about real change for the better in the daily experiences of people with disabilities around the world.   END