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Anni Juwairiyah: Affirmative Action for Persons with Disabilities

Annie Juwariyah, Former member of East Kalimantan House of Representatives It is not easy for somebody with a disability in Indonesia to become a politician. When the late Gus Dur was nominated for the presidency, which he eventually won, many opponents tried to block the nomination because Gus Dur was blind. Many believed being blind made him unfit to rule.

The debate over Gus Dur’s disability opened the eyes of many Indonesians to the issues of the political rights of persons with disabilities, and paved the way for improvements in election laws and regulations in Indonesia. These improvements made it possible for persons with disabilities to participate in elections not only as voters, but also as candidates.

The number of persons with disabilities running for office is still very small number. This is unsurprising, considering that most persons with disabilities in Indonesia struggle to overcome poverty, discrimination, lack of education and other obstacles. Those who do manage to run as candidates face stigmas, as did Gus Dur during his campaign.

However, some do overcome the odds, and not only run as candidates, but win. One such person is Anni Juwairiyah, who served as a member of the East Kalimantan Province House of Representatives from 2004 to 2009.

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Nguyen Hong Ha: A Story of Determination

"Even if a mountain is high, there is always a way to reach the top -- and although the way might be full of danger, there is always a way for someone to get through it. (Vietnamese Proverb)"

The proverb above may be the best one to describe Nguyen Hong Ha -- a Vietnamese woman, a human rights activist. When her mother learned Hong Hahn had polio, she knew that life would become difficult. “It was the most serious case,” Ha’s mother said. It resulted in her using a wheelchair now.

Going to school was always a challenge for her because of the school’s inaccessibility for wheelchair users. The same is also true for the college complex she went to. However, despite many difficulties, she experienced great acceptance from her classmates and teachers. Surrounded by such support, at school and home, Ha managed to get good education and because she was treated with no discrimination, she felt the same as any other girls at her age. Love, affection, helping each other, and responsibility are the inner qualities she learned from her family, while from school she learned how to fight for the human rights of persons with disabilities.

The first real barrier she encountered related to her disability was when she was about to enroll in a university. Universities in Vietnam at that time had a policy not to allow a disabled student to be accepted. This, however, did not diminish her determination. Ha successfully graduated from Hanoi University with a very good grade. After this success, she became even more motivated to be employed in a good job, so that she would be able to contribute to her family, friends, and the nation. But this dream was instantly challenged as she encountered another barrier to deal with right after graduation. Her job applications were being refused by numerous employers on the basis of her disability. The employers did not understand why a disabled person should be given the job that other non-disabled persons were queuing for. They also found it difficult to arrange the assistance necessary to help her do her daily work.

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Rising from the Ashes – the Story of Ms. Saowalak Thongkuay

Rising from the Ashes – the Story of Ms. Saowalak ThongkuayIf Saowalak Thongkuay, 46, of Thailand did not get into a car accident, life might have been very different for her. Before December 1993, she held an office job as an accountant in a bank and was happily engaged.

“When the accident took place, my fiancé and I were on our way to my hometown to prepare our wedding, which was only one week away.” Thongkuay had a serious spinal cord injury that left her in a wheelchair. Her fiancé, who was not injured in the accident, called off the engagement began a romantic relationship with her best friend.

As she was struggling to move on, Thongkuay found that living with a disability was a totally different world.

“After I was injured, I was automatically fired from the job. Then, after spending three years living apart from my family [for] medical rehabilitation, I got a job at a hotel in my hometown. Surprisingly, almost all the staff of the hotel looked down on me; they spread gossip to their boss that I was not productive and did not perform as the head accountant. I was devastated with this unfriendly atmosphere…I had to resign due to everyday barriers.”

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Ngin Saorath: Never Give Up on Your Life

Ngin Saorath, the Executive Director of CDPODiscrimination that he faced since a young age does not make Ngin Saorath hopeless to live his life as a person with disability. It even motivated him to fight for the disability rights in his country, Cambodia. He hopes that persons with disability (PwDs) can live as equal to other people without disability. Now he dedicates his life as the Executive Director of Cambodia Disabled People Organization (CDPO).

Ngin Saorath got polio when he was 3 years old that left him disabled. His disability impacted all aspects of his life. When he was about to start school, almost all school buildings in his country did not provide access for PwDs. Often, he had to take the stairs four floors up to attend a class, but it did not make Saorath despaired. He kept going to school to get more education until he finally finished high school.

After high school, his condition again became a big barrier for him to achieve his goals. He actually really wanted to become an English teacher or to be a lawyer, but he could not find any university who wanted to accept him as student. For seven years, Saorath had to stay home and depended on his family to stay alive. He did not give up and kept trying with all of his efforts.

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