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Disabled people seek equality, brighter futures

Jakarta Post - December 4, 2013

Andi Hajramurni and Slamet Susanto, Makassar/Yogyakarta – While the government's commitment to ensuring equal employment opportunities for disabled people is being questioned, people with disabilities have not lost hope as they struggle to live decent lives and earn a living.

In Bantul, Yogyakarta, for instance, the Bantul Revival Association (PBB), a group of people in wheelchairs who sustained spinal injuries in the devastating 2006 Java earthquakes, have become financially independent by making handicrafts under the umbrella company Buldan Craft.

"Our fate would have never improved if we depended solely on state or public charity. Only we ourselves could change our fate," said Saibul Bani of Bawuran, Kretek, Bantul, who is a paraplegic. He said he could support his family though making handicrafts.

Together with seven other difables (differently abled people) he employs, Saibul produces various handicrafts, such as candle holders and bags. "My dream is to make a disabled person into a boss [who runs a business] every year," said the father of three.

He said he started the business with fellow difables with Rp 20 million (US$1,807) as capital. "The greatest challenge is to change their worker mentality into an employer one."

Under the coordination of the PBB, Buldan Craft offers training for the disabled to develop a business according to their respective physical constraints. Once considered capable, they are supplied with various raw materials to make handicrafts to enable them to earn money and to employ others. According to Saibul, big-scale traders in the city had committed to marketing the products of difables.

Sardi, who has been in a wheelchair since 2006, said he found it difficult to get a job mainly because of his disability. "No company or institution was willing to hire a person in a wheelchair. We have to help ourselves," Sardi said.

Dasar Widodo, an activist who has a lower limb disability, said some 900 people in Bantul had become paraplegics due to the earthquake. Unfortunately, he said, insufficient attention had been paid to this particular group of earthquake survivors and the government was more concerned with reconstructing damaged houses than with mentally rehabilitating affected people.

"Through the association we will continue developing entrepreneurship and seeking donors [to help execute the program]," he said.

Meanwhile in Makassar, South Sulawesi, dozens of disabled people wearing traditional attire staged a 1-kilometer march to urge the administration to ensure equal opportunities and equal rights. The rally was held to commemorate International Day of People with Disabilities on Tuesday.

They started the march in front of South Sulawesi Social Agency building before heading to the Makassar city council. "Disabled people do not want to be treated exclusively. They want to be treated like any other person, have the right to work or to become civil servants," said Murni, one of the demonstrators.

The protesters urged local councilors to approve a draft bylaw on accessibility for disabled people. "We hope that the councilors will immediately enact the bylaw to help eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities in Makassar," said Murni.

After the march, the protesters released colorful balloons into air as a symbol of their high hopes in gaining equal rights.