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Jakarta Post

RI'€™s shocking educational reality for people with disabilities

  • Irwanto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, March 18, 2014   /  10:57 am

Activists in the disability movement in Indonesia were very upset upon learning that 40 state universities and colleges adopted a discriminatory policy in new student admission for 2014.

The information can be found on the website for university examinations, or Informasi SNMPTN 2014.

Each state university and college is providing science, social, humanities and art programs along with eligibility requirements for each, including exclusion criteria based on the impairments or disabilities of prospective students. These universities have the least exclusion criteria based on impairments.

This reality is shocking as higher education is expected to be an open-minded environment.

These institutions are also expected to assume important roles in advocating human rights and in making these rights real through advancements in technology and innovation as well as through progressive minds.

Indonesia has participated in the formulation of important agendas on the disability rights movement, such as the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action (2002), the Incheon Strategy to Make the Right Real for Persons with Disabilities in the Asia Pacific, and the ASEAN Strategic Framework for Social Welfare and Development (2011-2015) where advancing the rights of persons with disabilities (PwDs) is a priority.

Indonesia has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) through Law No. 19/2011 and is now in the process of revising Law No. 4/1997 on disability to adhere to the convention. The ratification imposes certain obligations on the state party, one of which is supporting and enforcing the basic principle of the convention: non-discrimination.

On education, Article 24 of the convention stipulates the state party should ensure a policy of inclusive education at all levels. The importance of this article cannot be overstated.

Access to education at all levels is the only significant means to develop the capacity of PwDs and improve their chances of participating fully in their communities and in national development.

Available data found that only 33 percent of PwDs are in school, 44 percent have never been to school and 23 percent have dropped out (Social Affairs Ministry, 2011).

Unfortunately, the larger community, including PwDs, has for a long time been brainwashed through the disability discourse, which defines disability as '€œabnormalities, impairments, anomalies, dysfunctions that need some degree of repair or fixing and otherwise will not have the full capacity that causes the person[s] to be less valuable or less able than '€˜normal'€™ or fully functional person[s]'€.

Even worse, this definition '€” which does not come from PwDs '€” is used in the letter of the law. When that happens, the law adopts all the assumptions behind it and society is justified to use these norms to inform their expectations of PwDs.

PwDs are always aware of their limitations (as others will judge and tell them so), but they are also very aware, are enthusiastic and are passionate about their abilities. Each of them has certain abilities that need to be nurtured and given the earliest opportunity to flourish.

The national development strategy should be based on PwDs abilities rather than their disabilities. Unfortunately, within the disability discourse and the current law, their abilities are overshadowed by their impairments.

There is yet another problem that PwDs must encounter '€” a determinist worldview. Impairments of certain parts of the human body or mind determine what a person is capable or incapable of.

People generally assume that know all about the limitations of PwDs are as they are '€œso obvious'€. But in reality, PwDs often prove them wrong.

Advances in science and technology have helped create more possibilities. The determination and mental strength of PwDs are factors that often have consequences that are not easily predictable.

The global disability movement has finally been able to define disability in a way that makes sense to PwDs. The UN'€™s CRPD defines disability as '€œan evolving concept'€ and that '€œdisability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others'€.

By this definition, the owners of problems causing disability are not just PwDs, but also others who interact with them. More importantly, others who have the authority to influence public policy bear the responsibility to overcome barriers that enable everyone, including PwDs, to participate in society as equals. When these factors are dealt with effectively, impairments do not necessarily create disability.  

The second principle in the CRPD is respect for freedom of choice and independence. This means that someone'€™s limitations in studying or choosing a career path should not be determined by others.

PwDs have different abilities that may open up unlimited opportunities. Only the person with the disability truly knows his or her limitations, so his or her case should be considered on a case-by-case basis rather than being outright
rejected by exclusion criteria as practiced in the current college registration system.

The right to higher education is supported by major laws in Indonesia, including the Constitution. Reasonable accommodation and universal accessibility has been stipulated in at least eight laws regulating public affairs, including Law No. 28/2002 on public infrastructure.

If public facility managements still have a problem with this, then it remains their problem because they must comply with the law. This is not the problem of PwDs.

As a developing country, Indonesia faces fierce competition from other countries. Let us get our act together, invest in every ability, provide opportunity for all citizens to contribute their best to the national interest and make everyone proud to be Indonesian through an inclusive policy.

Higher education should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.


The writer is a professor in social psychology at Atma Jaya University and co-director of the Center for Child Protection and Disability, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, at the University of Indonesia (UI).

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