MANILA, Philippines – Achieving one’s dream can be easy for some, difficult for others, but near impossible for a considerable portion of the Philippine population.
Around 1.5 million Filipinos or 1.57 percent of the 92.1 million household population in the country have some form of disability, according to the 2010 Census on Population and Housing.
Among them is Lalaine Guanzon, 44. Lalaine, vice president of the Federation of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Makati, used to live a normal, athletic life when, after giving birth to her eldest child at the age of 17, she found herself bedridden.
“I was told that I had rheumatoid arthritis,” Lalaine says, referring to a condition that causes pain and swelling in the joints. “I was advised to take medicine for two years, then my body reacted negatively to the medication.”
Lalaine says it took a while before she was able to regain her mobility, and when she did, it was as if she had a new lease on life.
“I felt like I died spiritually when I became paralyzed because I had been serving the Lord since I was 12. But when I finally came to terms with my fate, I felt I had never been happier because now I have a purpose – and that is to help my fellow disabled,” Lalaine says. Homepage ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
She is quick to point out, however, that they have a long way to go.
“We feel we are still the least priority of the government. Look around, there are a number of programs for the health, education and employment sectors. But we PWDs are always left asking what is in store for us,” she says.
Lalaine says this is a sad note, especially because the Magna Carta for PWDs of the Philippines was among the first to be promulgated in Asia.
“The problem is the very poor implementation of the law. Not a lot of people know about the rights of PWDs,” she adds.
The right to accessible transportation is one of the rights PWDs are fighting for.
Lalaine relates her experience when she attended a conference on accessible tourism in Malaysia. She got separated from her companions who went inside the mall and had to ask the guard how she could get back to her hotel.
The guard hailed a taxi, and what a surprise greeted her.
“When the taxi door opened, it was hydraulic. Everything there was hydraulic,” she says.
We may not have such taxis, but Lalaine is happy to share that in the Philippines, there is Wheelmobile, the first mobile transport service for people in wheelchairs.
The Wheelmobile is one of the projects of the Circle of Friends Foundation, Inc. (COFFI), a non-profit organization designed to provide empowerment, self-esteem and hope to children with cancer and chronic blood disorders.
Lalaine also works as public relations advisor of Wheelmobile.
Apart from the Wheelmobile, COFFI’s other programs are Happy Feet, aimed at helping clubfoot kids, and the Gallery, where works of disabled artists are showcased.
According to Lalaine, the Wheelmobile is a modified van custom fabricated to a height approximately 1.50 meters, allowing access to very tall persons in wheelchairs. Entry is over a non-slip lightweight aluminum ramp imported from Germany, which is capable of holding up to 400 kilograms.
Once inside the vehicle, the wheelchair is tightly secured with a locking system to rails installed on the floor. Two extra doors are found on the side of the van for security and easy entry and exit.
The first Wheelmobile was bought in 2003 through the generosity of the Zuellig Foundation.
Currently, COFFI has four Wheelmobiles – three of which are being used for the foundation’s operations while the other has been donated to Tahanang Walang Hagdan in Cainta, Rizal where around 200 PWDs reside.
Lalaine says the Wheelmobile, which can accommodate up to eight people, can be hired at the flag down rate of P450 plus P250 for every succeeding hour.
“It’s really a big help. Last month, a cerebral palsy patient and his mother were able to ride Wheelmobile. The mother said they have never experienced the comfort that they had inside the vehicle. Most people with disabilities are like that. They are afraid to travel because if they do, it’s either its going to take them too long or it’s going to cost so much,” she says.
But Lalaine believes it’s high time PWDs claim their right.
“We have dreams, too. There are PWDs who want to study, but how can they get to school? Those who have graduated from school, on the other hand, are faced with the everyday challenge of going to their workplace. Still, there are those who are undergoing rehabilitation to recover from their disability, but it takes a lot of effort to even reach the hospital,” Lalaine says. Accessible transportation, she says, would be a great tool to start their journey toward their goals and dreams.