At 470 million, they would’ve beat the United States by population.
But while the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s estimated number of employable disabled people alone proves that they are not an invisible minority, people with disabilities continue to be among the most discriminated professionals — experiencing 80-100 per cent higher unemployment rate than non-disabled professionals.
The Philippines is no exception. In a Philippine Daily Inquirer article which came out early last year, it was highlighted that “Filipino employers prefer PWDs (people with disabilities) who are male, are non-college degree holders, have motor disability, and with previous related work experience for ‘blue-collar’ jobs. The work arena for PWDs is largely male-dominated like in mainstream employment, where female PWDs suffer double discrimination because of their gender and because of their handicap. Apparently, businesses in the Philippines also favor PWDs applying for nonprofessional jobs which may explain why employers choose noncollege degree holders over those who have finished higher studies.”
A paper from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies supported that observation, noting that the leading occupation among PWDs in the urban area is masseur, while those from rural areas are mostly farmers/farm workers/livestock and poultry raisers.
Frustrated with pervasive stereotypes faced by fellow PWDs, Professor Rex Bernardo decided to launch Project WIRED (Work Innovation through Resource Enabled Development) –an organisation which aims to provide ICT skills to PWDs, utilising online and face-to-face training approach as an alternative learning methodology.
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“Though we are talented and have the skills set, many employers (even the government agencies) would not give us the chance to prove our worth. And so, they will offer us low-end positions–contractual, clerical or messengerial posts–just to accommodate us, then announcing that they are providing employment opportunities to PWD sector,” says Professor Bernardo. “And we are supposed to be grateful and loyal for the opportunity given us.”
Keen to challenge prevailing attitudes and create better opportunities for disabled people, Professor Bernardo has turned to the internet to address problems faced by the sector. “The internet is a great equaliser not only for the poor people but also PWDs. As a great source of information for all, people would realize that all of us share equal rights even those in the margins of society. And those in the majority has the responsibility to reach out to those in dire need of attention and protection, including PWDs.”
Through their partnership with top online jobs marketplace Freelancer.com, Professor Bernardo aims to introduce online freelancing to disabled Filipinos. The outsourcing and crowdsourcing platform plans to assist PWDs kickstart their online freelancing career and find more professional opportunities that local companies do not readily provide them.
Michael Lopez, one of Project WIRED’s successful participants and a deaf student who recently graduated Magna Cum Laude from De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies believes in the benefits that online freelancing gives PWDs: “It includes flexibility, overcoming mobility barriers and enjoying more free time with online work. I think it is the best opportunity.”
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This year, Professor Bernardo envisions to develop a training module about the different adaptive technologies for PWDs and create a working package for their effective utilization for telecommuting work; create prototype web applications that enhances the usability of screen readers for the blind and speech recognitions softwares for the deaf; as well as establish a virtual company that actively seeks engagement with online companies for the purpose of hiring qualified PWDs to do virtual assistants work. He is optimistic that Project WIRED & Freelancer.com’s partnership will help realize his vision for PWDs, not just in the Philippines but also in the Southeast Asian region.
“Persons with disabilities can be viable and valuable employees when given the right opportunity. IT-literate PWDs can make a strong contribution in an online workforce and we’d like for them to maximize their potential by exploring the opportunities waiting for them on Freelancer.com,” Professor Bernardo ends.