PHILIPPINE BLIND UNION
BY: MR. JOSE M. ROBREDO JR.
The Philippines is a country of 7,107 islands and has a total population of 100,981,437, as per the August 1, 2015 Census. However, statistical data on persons with disability are based on the 2010 Census which indicates that about 16 per thousand of the country’s population have disabilities representing 1.57 percent of the population. The populations of persons who are blind or visually impaired in the Philippines is approximately 500,000 and majority of them are poor and uneducated.
Data from the Department of Education (2014, 2015) show an increasing trend in SPED enrolment in public elementary schools: from 37,000 SPED students school year 2014-2015 to 42,000 SPED students in 2015-2016. In public high schools, the trend is significantly the same at 2,000 SPED enrolments in both school years.
The data of the Resources for the Blind Inc. (RBI) estimated that about 40,000 blind and visually impaired are of school age. While the Philippines has a very well established school system with a high percentage of children enrolled in school, historically, only a very small percentage of those who are blind have been able to enroll. In 1990, only 300 blind students nationwide were enrolled in school, primarily in the schools located in urban residential schools for the blind.
I was elected to the leadership of the Philippine Blind Union last November of 2016. This was totally unexpected and left me with dilemma – whether to accept the challenge and responsibility or not. I decided to accept the responsibility and to focus my priorities to do something significantly in the field of education and livelihood for Filipinos with visual impairment. We discussed this among my fellow new elected members of the board of trustees who gave their full support to me. We formed standing committees and identified point persons for each committee in order for us to properly address the current difficulties and challenges that confront by the blind and visually impaired in the country.
We have enthusiastically prioritized the social enterprise development program and promotion of inclusive education of blind and or visually impaired.
Our Education Committee has been closely coordinating with the Department of Education and other stake holders to promote inclusive educational system for children with visual impairment. PBU has also initiated an early intervention model in first district of Camarines Sur. We taught the family members of our children with blindness basic Braille reading and writing, and families of children with deafness, basic sign language. We also provide those slates, stylus and braille paper, and basic sign language handbooks.
Massage is still the number one means of employment of majority of Filipino visually impaired. Some of them have subsequently become entrepreneurs themselves – bringing a new dimension of the “blind leading the blinds” – they provide livelihood opportunities for their fellow blind/visually impaired.
We have launched and supported three social enterprise projects focusing on massage clinics which are able to provide employment opportunities for 35 visually impaired and other persons with disability. Moreover, we have supported the hiring of some licensed visually impaired teachers in the Department of Education Sped schools. Some have work at home jobs such as online English tutorials, audio file transcription and etc.
The increasing public awareness and appreciation of white cane as the primary assistive tool and symbol of the blind in the Philippines which has greatly improved the safe and independent daily travel of Filipino blind people. This was achieved with the aid of legislation called R. A. 6759 known as “White Cane Act of 1989” which was passed through the initiative of the first leaders of the Philippine Blind Union (PBU) namely Capt. Oscar Taleon and Mr. Michael Barredo. The law mandates the celebration of White Cane Safety Day on August 1 of each year to remind the general public of the need for respect as well as assistance for people using white cane for their mobility. Thus, PBU often conducts white cane provision projects with the support of government and non-government donors. Although awareness is improving, however, public sensitivity must be farther enhance among transport stake holders. The arrival of Transport Network Vehicle System application in 2015 has provided more travel convenience to person with disability despite their being more expensive than regular taxis. The PBU has been often consulted for the improvement of accessibility to insure safe, convenient and independent mobility of the blind in the country.
Accessible Information and Communication Technology
Many visually impaired Filipinos are more knowledgeable about computer technology at this time especially among young professionals. Different DPOs have been providing trainings on digital literacy for more than two decades now for the blind/visually impaired. These DPOs include Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of Visually Impaired (ATRIEV), Resources for the Blind Inc. (RBI), and the Teruko Ikeda scholars which benefit the blind students, Special Education teachers and other professionals who have recently become blind in order for them to go back to their office works.
In September 2017, ATRIEV in partnership of Microsoft Philippines and Ateneo De Manila University conducted a Hackathon entitled “Hack a Site”, to conduct accessibility audit among websites that often used by visually impaired people.
In that event, groups of six students -four sighted web developer students from different universities and two visually impaired scholars from ATRIEV were given the task of auditing an assigned Website and make an Accessible version of it. The Websites chosen were among the most used government and private commercial company’s websites. In that event, the web developers and school are informed to observe web accessibility in support by the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT).
The PBU were also enthusiastically participates in initiatives to insures disability inclusive disaster risk reduction and management (DIDRRM). A national conference was held last October 11-13, 2017 in Cebu City which came-up with a national declaration for DIDRRM and framework of action. Blind delegates actively contributed in the workshops conducted to insure inclusion of measures on how to help the blind people in an emergency situation.
Advocacies on other policies benefiting the blind subsector have been even carry out by the new leadership, such as the ratification of Marrakesh Treaty, implementation of UNCRPD, Inclusive education and promotion of accessible information and entertainment like audio description in movie cinemas, and training workshop on audio description among stakeholders.
PBU works with other stakeholders in the disability sector to have stronger support for its priority projects of accessible and inclusive education and livelihood provision for people with visual impairment.