President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo greets a disabled woman in Manokwari, West Papua, in April 2018. (Photo courtesy of the State Palace)

Disability Issue Absent From Vice-Presidential Debate

BY :MUHAMMAD ZULFIKAR RAKHMAT

MARCH 30, 2019

The Indonesian people were presented with a contest of ideas between the two vice-presidential candidates, Ma'ruf Amin – running mate of the incumbent, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo – and Sandiaga Uno – running mate of former Army general Prabowo Subianto – during the third presidential debate on March 17. This was one of several debates organized to help people choose the best person in next month's presidential election.

The latest debate touched on various crucial issues: education, health, employment, social affairs and culture. The two camps launched several programs to advance the country in these areas. However, none of what was conveyed during the debate was dedicated to a minority, which over the past seven decades, can be said to have been the most marginalized. The group in question is the millions of disabled Indonesians. The expectation that this election will be different is diminishing, given that the idea of ​​inclusive programs does not seem to be the main point on the agenda of either the incumbent or his challenger.

As in previous elections, the issue of disability is absent, and if not, it is placed last. Although there have been many voices echoing the importance of this issue, politicians remain reluctant to invest their time and energy in finding solutions to improve the welfare of the country's more than 20 million disabled people.

Perhaps their reluctance stems from the relatively small number of disabled voters in Indonesia. In the 2018 regional election, only a little over 0.3 percent, or 556,754 people on the permanent voter list, were disabled. For the upcoming presidential election, the General Elections Commission (KPU) has registered 1.2 million disabled people to exercise their democratic right. Although the number of disabled persons more than doubled, the total percentage remains very small.

Exerting massive efforts for a small number of voters may be considered a waste of time and energy. However, the issue of disability should not be seen like that. This is because the true leaders Indonesia needs are those who are willing to see discrimination as a form of impropriety. They are those who dare to go into the streets and hear the screams of minorities when other people are busy taking care of trivial matters. Moreover, they are those who dare to make changes when the others stand idly by.

Conditions for Disabled Indonesians Remain Bad

Indeed, it is true that when Amin and Uno discussed equal rights to education, health and employment during the debate, they did not speak on behalf of the disabled. Meanwhile, disabled people in Indonesia are far behind other groups, as most are impoverished by an unjust system.

The issue of the rights of the disabled is still young in Indonesia. Only 71 years after the country was freed from colonialism, the government finally passed Law No. 8 of 2016 on Persons With Disabilities. It was the first time disabled Indonesians gained a strong legal basis to fight for equal rights.

At this early stage, the implementation of this law's mandate still requires lots of homework, especially because issues of disability are cross-sectoral, requiring cooperation between all stakeholders.

According to the 2017 Labor Force Survey (Sakernas), only 1.93 percent of disabled people completed the nine years of compulsory education, 51.18 percent of whom are working-age citizens. The National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) further reported that only 25 percent of disabled people are employed in either the formal or informal sector.

While there are several startup companies, such as Go-Jek, Thisable Enterprise and Ojek Difa in Yogyakarta, that have started to provide opportunities for persons with disabilities, Fadillah Putra, head of Brawijaya University's Disability Studies and Services Center, believes current regulations still discriminate against persons with disabilities.

The most obvious example is setting "physically and mentally healthy" as a condition for those who want to register for the State Higher Education Entrance Joint Selection (SBMPTN). "Lecturers must be physically and mentally healthy to gain acceptance. Can sick people not become lecturers? Then they must also be physically and mentally healthy to join the SBMPTN. That is a gross human rights violation and one we advocate must be removed," Fadillah said.

Article 42 of the Law on Persons with Disabilities mandates higher education institutions to facilitate the establishment of disability service units. In fact, it was emphasized that institutions without disability service units would be subject to administrative sanctions, ranging from reprimands to the revocation of permits. Nonetheless, this has not been implemented properly and many disabled people still find it difficult to access universities for study or work.

These are just a few examples of how conditions for disabled people in Indonesia remain far from ideal. The same situation can be found in transportation, with the absence of ramps and guiding blocks in many public spaces, as well as the national health insurance, which has not been able to reach people with disabilities.

Under the current conditions, remaining silent on the issue of disability would further jeopardize the disabled community in Indonesia. The country needs a leader willing to take on the task of broadening the narrative to include the marginalized minority. We need a leader who is sensitive and eager to learn, as well as ready to put himself or herself in disabled people's shoes and make sure all pull their weight to contribute equally in solving the problems this minority faces.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is an independent investigative journalist, researcher and disability advocate based in Indonesia. He is also one of the founders of Sekolabilitas, a nongovernmental organization focusing on helping disabled children to access education.

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