Cheta Nilawaty P., Jakarta – Social Affairs Minister Tri Rismaharini or popularly known as Risma drew criticism from many people with disabilities after forcing a deaf child who is using hearing aids to speak during the commemoration event of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at the ministry's building on Wednesday, December 1.
Risma invited a deaf and mute boy named Aldi to go up on stage for a dialogue. "Aldi, you have to speak now. I ask you to speak without using [an assistive] device. You can speak," Risma said.
Shortly after, a deaf person named Stefan, a representative from the Movement for the Well-Being of Deaf Indonesians (Gerkatin), volunteered to go up to the stage and criticized the minister that deaf children who use hearing aids could not be forced to speak as they use sign language as a means of communication.
"I hope you already know about CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), that deaf children use hearing aids, but not to be forced to speak. I was really surprised when you gave such a statement. Sorry ma'am, am I wrong?" said Stefan through a sign language interpreter. "That sign language is important to us. Sign language is like a precious treasure," he continued.
Risma thus clarified her intentions and goals for forcing deaf and mute children to keep speaking. She argued that by using hearing aids, they could speak to maximize what God has given.
"So Stefan, I didn't [mean to] reduce [the use] of sign language, but you know that God gives us mouths, ears, and eyes. What I wanted to teach you all, especially the children who use hearing aids, they should not remain mute," Risma said.
"That is why I pushed you all to speak so that we can maximize what God has given us. I don't forbid the use of sign language. But if you can speak, it will be even better," the minister added.
She also recalled her experience of learning from the Presidential Special Staff for Social Affairs, Angkie Yudistia, who made her believe that deaf children could speak. Risma said when she served as Surabaya Mayor and met Angkie for the first time, the founder of Disable Enterprise could not speak clearly at that time. "But because Mbak Angkie continues to train herself, her speaking is very clear now," Risma said.
Video clips from the event have widely circulated on social media. Many people voiced their criticism towards the Social Affairs Minister.