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Rebranding the NDPR Week

20 Jul

I am amazed at how disability communities come together at this time of the year to commemorate the National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation Week. Since I became more immersed in the disability advocacy in 2012, I noticed how it is getting bigger every year!

Government agencies, local government units and non-profit development groups are putting in money and man hours to celebrate a week of “uplifting the economic and social welfare of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the country” — fueled by Proclamation No. 1870 (1979), amended by Proclamation No. 361 (2000) and Administrative Order No. 35 (2002). This year’s NPDR week was commemorated for the 40th time on July 17-23, in time for the 150th birth anniversary of the country’s most kick-ass PWD, Apolinario Mabini.

As this week comes to a close though, the brand management person in me continues to mull over an issue that has hounded me like an insatiable itch. After 40 long years, why do we continue to focus on a medical model — with terms like PREVENTION and REHABILITATION? Medical help of all kinds are important to people with disabilities; but these are not the most significant of their issues. There is a mismatch between our aspirations for what the week will inspire versus the name our predecessors gave it.

This outdated circa-1978 branding tends to bring to the fore PHYSICAL disabilities, ignoring the fact that disabilities come in many forms — many of which are invisible, genetic or lifelong. In the case of autism, there are no known ways to PREVENT the condition (pseudo-science aside); nor can the condition be REHABILITATED out of our kids.

As a parent of an adult man with autism, I know that my son is not “sick”. His autism is an inherent part of his uniqueness, something that will be with him for life. It comes with a slew of big and small social and communication challenges, that we address through a variety of HABILITATION strategies. It also comes with strengths that make him an amazing human being. As my son matures, he is now giving us directions on how to support him. Our job is to make sure he appreciates all his options and he gets that support he needs — from his family, from the private sector and from the government.

As an advocate for the autism community, I would prefer that we chuck the outdated approach of looking at disability as a medical condition; and instead take a social view — where we all work towards “leveling the playing field” for Filipinos with disabilities in school, at work, and in life. In that complex equation, addressing disability challenges via medical or therapeutic interventions is only first step and perhaps the less difficult. Our biggest challenge is changing how the public looks at disability — not with medical or charity lenses — but with one upholding dignity, justice and human rights. We should encourage disability awareness, acceptance, accommodation, appreciation — the pillars of inclusion — in all areas of the Philippine society.  That will spur the change our countrymen with disabilities need to live a better life. I argue that we can begin to inspire this disruption by changing the name of the event so many of us enthusiastically commemorate and promote each year.

I am calling for re-branding this week to the NATIONAL DISABILITY INCLUSION WEEK, in the hopes that our society develops a healthier view on the diversity of the human condition.

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Here is me and Carl, my son on the autism spectrum, having lunch, en route to delivering chocolates he made and packaged for his clients. Check Gregarious Gifts on Facebook for the handmade crafts he sells.

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