Being a person with disability (PWD) in the Philippines is no picnic. In Manila alone, everything seems to conspire to prevent PWDs from conveniently getting around. Stairs are too high, elevators don’t work, jeeps and buses don’t stop long enough for people to to get on (and if they do, their steps are high as well). The City was not, and continues to not be built for the physically challenged. This is a shame, because not only does it limit the quality of life of whole groups of people (many seniors have mobility issues as well), it also hinders the country from attracting disabled and senior tourists.
Ed Geronia is a writer and software developer who has polio, which has affected his right leg. “Because of underdeveloped leg muscles and joint deformation, I have difficulty walking on uneven surfaces including inclines and stairs. I need to rely on walking aids such as a forearm crutch to stabilize my gait and increase my mobility,” he says.
Ed drives a car that’s been modified to accommodate his disability. Still, he thinks that there is a lot more the City can do to accommodate the differently abled. “In general, most public structures in Metro Manila are very PWD-unfriendly, it’s even PWD-hostile,” he says. “The facilities are severely lacking and most available structures are not even compliant to international standards. Assuming that you can get in the PUV (public utility vehicle) unassisted, the PWD seat in PUVs is rarely reserved for actual PWDs. Buses lack hydraulic mechanisms and ramps (that are available in first world countries) that make ingress/egress easy for those with limited mobility.”
Though we’re in an age where building codes require facilities like ramps for the wheelchair bound, they’re often just for show, and can sometimes even be more dangerous to someone with balance or mobility issues (this writer, who is disabled, has fallen on one such wheelchair ramp). “While a lot of public structures for PWDs are not up to international standards, a lot of them are also made just for the sake of compliance i.e. existence of a PWD-friendly structure,” Ed shares. “This results in some ramps being too steep or too narrow making it difficult to use by those in wheelchairs. In places like the MRT (Manila Metro Rail Transit System), elevators are poorly maintained and rarely work in some stations making it impossible for PWDs to use the train to commute.”
Sometimes, it’s not just the infrastructure that’s PWD-unfriendly—thoughtless Manileños can be, too! “I drive a motor vehicle and I find that sometimes the PWD parking slots in establishments are taken up by people who are not PWDS or don’t have PWD passengers. LTO should issue valid PWD stickers for PWD vehicles and guard should check whether they have these valid stickers,” Geronia says.
Making Manila PWD-friendly can start as easily as listening to the needs of actual people with disabilities. “Those who build PWD amenities should really ask actual PWDs for their inputs as well as to test them out. PWD amenities not only benefit PWDs but the general public as well including those who with limited mobility such the elderly and parents with baby strollers,” says Ed.
Kathryn Tan is a psychiatrist who suffers from muscular dystrophy, which is passed on through the genes. Muscular dystrophy is a complicated disease, but Kathryn tries to explain its effects simply: “I very easily get tired. My body gets progressively weaker as I age. My back bends like being pregnant so at times I can’t feel my legs. I easily fall down and I have to “crawl” back up. I can barely lift my arms and legs. I have to lay flat on my back for a few days to relieve the pressure and rest my body out,” she says. “This is not a leg problem, its a problem of my entire body. If I don’t move, my cardiac and respiratory muscles will weaken too.”
Her disability does not allow Kathryn to drive, so she has to rely on public transportation to get around. Rideshare services have been a godsend, and Kathryn acknowledges how lucky she is to be able to afford them. Unfortunately, they tend to take a big chunk out of her salary. “I’m very lucky we have Grab and I can afford it. But going to and from work costs as much as making payments for my own car,” she says. “I cannot ride the bus or jeepney. The steps are too high and the seats are too low. I was hoping they’d have PWD-friendly buses.”
Mobility in public spaces is a challenge. “There is not enough space for sidewalks,” she says. “Plus, there’s a lack of ramps. Some ramps still have steps to get on it, are too steep or are made of material which become slippery when wet. I’ve encountered a ramp blocked by a fire hydrant and some cannot be accessed by a wheelchair bound citizen. People actually park their cars where the ramps are!”
Even a trip to the mall can be fraught with potential danger. “I would fall down due to kids bumping into me at the mall. Irresponsible parents allow them to run around,” Tan says. “Elevators are packed with abled people who don’t give way to the disabled or the elderly. Good thing I can now shop online.”
Kathryn wishes for a city that thinks of its PWD amenities in terms of the people who will actually use them, and not just a building code to be followed haphazardly. “The idea is to allow independence of the PWD citizen, and not just to be able to get into a building,” she says.
Toward a More Inclusive Philippines
Inclusivity is important, especially if one aspires to be woke. We have to remember that just because something doesn’t affect us, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an effect on others. The next time you’re in an elevator and see someone in a wheelchair needing to get in, give them right of way. After all, you can take the stairs or escalator. They can’t, even if in their heart of hearts, they really want to.