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Created on Thursday, 09 February 2012 Written by agendaasia.org

images conference profile Joazito dos SantosJoazito dos Santos

More than 90 percent of Timor Leste buildings provide no ac­cess. Only two new buildings, the Office of the President and Secretary of State, have an elevator and ramp.

Joaozito dos Santos, known as Jon, is the only participant from Timor Leste in the Re­gional Dialogue on Access to Elections for Persons with Dis­abilities. He is the coordinator of Disabled People Organisa­tion (DPO), a non-governmen­tal organization that advocates for persons with disabilities. “We support their pleas from discrimination and help them obtain their rights,” Jon said.

According to Jon, Article 21 of Timor Leste Laws states that all persons with disabilities are to receive equal rights to those of other citizens. Yet, in reality, implementation of the law is a far cry from what is written.

When considering accessibility, Jon said, more than 90 per­cent of Timor Leste buildings provide no access. Transporta­tion is also similar. “Perhaps 99 percent of transportation, both infrastructure and vehicle, have no venues of access,” Jon said.

The same condition exists in education. Timor Leste only has one Special School for the Dis­abled at the elementary level. “We have no junior and senior high school which can accom­modate persons with disabili­ties if they want to continue their study. They may need to go to Indonesia,” Jon contin­ued. In the Ministry of Educa­tion’s plan, the Special School becomes a resource center to implement inclusive education. “But no implementation has been achieved until now,” Jon explained.

A more perturbing situation is seen for job opportunities. Jon feels the disabled persons in Timor Leste are judged on their disabilities, not their capabili­ties. “Hardly ever does a person with disability work in a public place. They are only employed in organizations for the dis­abled,” he said.

Based on these realities, Jon ascertains that many obstacles and discriminations also oc­cur to persons with disabilities in the general election. This is why Jon came to the confer­ence in Jakarta. “I need to learn a lot, to be able to give input and continue to advocate for the disabled community to the government,” Jon assured.


images news conference profile saowalakSaowalak Thongkuay

This Thai wheel-chaired woman seems like she never gets tired of giving speeches at various regional confer­ences to advocate for the rights of persons with dis­abilities. This time, Saowalak Thongkuay attended the Regional Dialogue on Access to Elections for Persons with Disabilities and spoke on the importance of being aware of the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Thongkuay, people with dis­abilities have a long way to go before they can get their political rights, especially the right to vote in an election. “There are so many aspects of elections for persons with dis­abilities that require a mutual solution from many parties, like NGOs, government, donor agencies and other stakehold­ers,” said Thongkuay.

Thongkuay took the physical aspect as an example. There are still so many obstacles for persons with disabilities in enjoying their right to vote, especially when we consider the various conditions of per­sons with disabilities. Thong­kuay said that although her country already involves persons with disabili­ties in parliament, it only has a small impact at the policy level. “Together we still have to fight for exercising our rights at the regulatory level,” she emphasized.

image news conference profile saharuddin daming

Saharuddin Daming

Dr. Saharuddin Daming is a person with disability who has obtained several significant achievements. He was the first blind person who achieved a doctoral law degree in Indonesia and he was the first blind person to become Commissioner of the National Commission for Hu­man Rights.

Saharuddin was born in Pare-pare, South Sulawesi, on May 28, 1968. When he was 5, his father passed away. One day, something got into his right eye. Unexpectedly, it caused total blindness in that eye.

Since then, he began reading with his left eye. But later on, his left eye also lost complete sight. The doctor diagnosed paralysis in his neural system from the brain to the retina. He received this news when he was 10 years old.

Since then, Saharuddin learned Braille. He studied in a public school. He experienced discrimina­tion. But, he finished senior high school successfully and was accept­ed in the Law Faculty of Hasanud­din University, Makassar.

In 1994, Saharuddin completed his bachelor degree in law. He began participating actively in organiza­tions which empower persons with disabilities and continued his stud­ies in law. Building on his personal experience as a blind man who was often discriminated, he worked on spreading understanding and awareness of this human rights violation.

Saharuddin finished his magister of law and in 2002 he received his doctoral degree. In 2007, he was chosen as Commissioner of the National Commission for Human Rights for 2007 – 2012.

As a Commissioner in the sub-com­mission of Education and Informa­tion, Saharuddin performs many activities to raise awareness of human rights, both at the policy-making level and in the public.

During the dialogues in Jakarta, Saharuddin spoke in the first ses­sion. He shared that protection and fulfillment of the rights of persons with disabilities in Indonesia in the beginning had been based on charity and social welfare. However, the laws which have been passed recently are using a social-based approach.

Saharuddin affirms that in every aspect, persons with disabilities possess equal rights. That is why it is highly important to pay seri­ous attention and put effort into defending the rights of persons with disabilities. One strategy is to include disability elements in all policymaking activities, including the general election program.


image news conference profile ruisanchezAlberto Ruisanchez

He is a lawyer who works for the U.S. Department of Justice. This division defends the rights of marginal populations, which includes the rights of disabled people.

He once received a report in an election that was not accessible for the blind in Philadelphia. Since then, he has had a special attention to the disabled people’s rights fulfillment issues.

In this conference, he presented conference-goers with information technology that can help the blind participate in election independently. Ruisanchez was impressed with the rapid movement of disabled communities all over the world.

“It takes time to struggle for a progress. We should do that in stages. Making a regional collaboration like what you have done in Southeast Asian region will accelerate the process,” he said.


image news conference profile cucu saidahCucu Saidah

Cucu Saidah was part of two-day dialogue on access for disabled people in elections at the Pullman Hotel. She is known as disabled activist without limit, as she has dedicated her life to defending the interests of disabled people in a variety of fields. She in a quadriplegic using a wheelchair.

Saidah was the pioneer and the first leader of Bandung Independent Living Center (BILiC). BILiC is a non-governmental organization in implementing disabled people programs with an independent living philosophy. In this mindset, disabled people are invited to learn about themselves and recognize their own needs, enabling them to their own condition.

Efforts to change the mentality of disabled persons are part of larger effort. This includes peer counseling and peer support services in the homes of disabled persons. Counseling s provided by activists and volunteers of BILiC who are also disabled people. The supporters already got training before doing their job. Such efforts to develop independence have been effective.

Saidah established BILiC in 2003 after receiving training in independent living in Japan. After quitting BILiC, she worked as a consultant for the World Bank on a baseline study on children with special needs. In 2007, she worked for Helen Keller International in Solo, as a children program manager.

In 2009, Saidah started working for Handicap International. She was assigned to become the project manager of adaptive wheelchair production. For the last year she has worked for AusAID.

According to Saidah, the participation of disabled people in election is both interesting and important, as elections are a way to acknowledge the rights of disabled people.

She hopes that this dialogue results in a better policy and implementation.

Saidah reminded conference participants that election implementation is not only about making templates and regulations. What about people with celebral palsy who cannot leave their home? It is impossible for them to come to election posts. It is also impossible to represent them. “There should have been any solution to this problem. Visiting and giving chance to vote at home can be a solution,” she said.


image news conference profile ming hue

Dao Minh Hue

In Hanoi, Vietnam, a twenty-something woman has decided to dedicate her life to the world of disability services.

The woman is Dao Minh Hue. At the Regional Conference on Access to Elections for Persons with Disabilities, you could easily recognize Hue with her long hair, glasses, and big smile. She is the daughter of a teacher and accountant, born in a poor province far from Hanoi. She chose to become a Personal Assistant Coordinator at Hanoi Independent Living Center.

“I learned and gained many things from this regional conference. Apart from the speakers are fellow disability organizations from ASEAN countries,” she said.

According to Hue, the theme of political rights for persons with disabilities is important, especially as she is preparing to conduct a study on compliance with the political rights of persons with disabilities in her country.

“As a personal assistant coordinator, I need a lot of information related to the political rights of persons with disabilities and through this conference a lot of information that I need are provided,” she said. She chose to work in the world of disability because of her conscience and a great motivation, which she said is reinforced in lectures she sits through in college. Her major is social studies.

“My professors and parents supported my life choice,” she said.


image news conference profile saorathNgin Saorath

“Nothing for Us Without Us.” This was written on Ngin Saorath’s business card, the Executive Director of Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization (CDPO), an organization fighting for the rights of persons with disabilities in Cambodia through advocacy and lobbying.

“We lobby government to protect the rights for persons with disabilities and push policy making to ensure that disability issues are on their agenda and deciding on a policy,” Saorath said.

According to Saorath, until now, persons with disabilities in Cambodia are still very discriminated in many aspects of life.

“Persons with disabilities are human, as any other human being,” he said. From these regional conferences, he is sure that he can take away many useful things, like learning about the process of collective learning from other disability organizations in ASEAN countries.


Yusdianaimage news conference profile yusdiana

Yusdiana was incredibly busy during the past two days. As committee head, she was responsible for running all programs.

Yusdiana was born in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. When she was one, she suffered from polio. This put her in a wheelchair.

However, Yusdiana was set on finishing studies. In 2006, she got involved in social projects in Mataram. Getting involved in these activities paved the way to a scholarship from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

In 2010, after receiving master’s degree in International Development Studies, Yusdiana returned to Indonesia. She was involved in activities in Lombok until she joined AGENDA. She then became the program manager representing the Indonesian Disabled People Association (PPCI) with the task of coordinating programs with regional partners of AGENDA in ASEAN countries.

The dialogue in Jakarta was the first major project Yusdiana worked on with AGENDA. This event was also the first regional meeting on the participation of disabled people in the election.

“We learn together. This meeting is held to let us know about and share best practices in other countries,” she said.

This news is produced by Diffa, the first and only magazine focusing on disability issues.diffa logo




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