‘Invisible’ face seen, heard at WEF
Co-Chairs of the World Economic Forum on East Asia 2014, World Wide Fund for Nature, Yolanda Kakabadse, (L), Chairman of the Board Toashiba Corporation, Atsutoshi Nishida (2nd L), Executive Director of Lippo Group, John Riady, (2nd R) and Chairman of Lawson Incorporated Takeshi Niinami (R) join hands at a press conference during the World Economic Forum in Manila on May 22, 2014. The forum, focusing on the fastest-growing region of the world, needs to look at ways to make growth more equitable and sustainable to bring more people out of poverty while also finding ways to minimize environmental damage brought on by the group.
A Filipino has become the face and voice of what is said to be an “invisible sector.” Rex Adivoso Bernardo, a Young Global Leader fellow from Camarines Norte province, asserted before delegates at the recently concluded World Economic Forum on East Asia (WEF-EA) the rights of people with disabilities, laying bare the hardships that people like him have faced in finding decent and quality jobs, amid the many misconceptions and outright discrimination. “Many businesses don’t give us opportunities to be included in their companies. Only 10 percent of the ‘employable’ persons with disabilities (PWDs) are able to find jobs. In the Philippines, it is harder for us to be accommodated in the workplace even if we have skills, as majority of us have been educated. But many companies prefer to hire those without college degrees,” Bernardo said in one of the sessions at the WEF-EA on Friday. Globally, only a fraction of some 470 million people with disabilities are employed. And the Philippines is no exception. “More than 80 percent of employable PWDs in the Philippines do not have jobs and for that 20 percent, most of them have menial jobs. The blind, for instance, are being stereotyped as masseurs. For the PWDs who were able to study and finish college, they would aspire for other, better jobs,” Bernardo said in an interview. Firsthand experience “As a person with disability myself, I experienced firsthand that even if we are talented and have [the] skills set, many employers would not give us the chance to prove our worth. And so, they will offer us low-end positions just to accommodate us and then announce that they are providing employment opportunities to the PWD sector. And we are supposed to be grateful and loyal for the opportunity given to us,” he said. Having been stricken with polio when he was 5, Bernardo was no stranger to the difficulties faced by PWDs. He never even got the chance to get any basic education and was 20 years old when he was finally given the opportunity to study, going straight to college at Trinity College of Quezon City where he completed his BS Psychology degree in five years. “The thing is, the only reason why I was able to go to college there was because they opened up this opportunity for PWDs. They allowed us, that’s why we are grateful to Trinity. Long before the term ‘inclusive education’ was coined, Trinity College was already implementing it. There was no special treatment. But they gave us accommodations, one measure at a time, until such time that we were able to institutionalize the programs for PWDs,” Bernardo said. Personal triumph Through scholarships, Bernardo went on to complete higher education degrees, including a Master in Management from Trinity University of Asia in 1999, Master in Human Resources Management from Sydney University in 2001, Master in Development Management from Asian Institute of Management in 2002 and a doctorate in educational leadership and management in 2013 at Bicol University. Over the past decade, Bernardo has been recognized for his achievements, particularly his “personal triumph over his disability” and his strong advocacy for the rights of PWDs, specifically in the field of inclusive education. He was conferred the Apolinario Mabini Presidential Award by Malacañang in 2007 in recognition of services to the disabled sector and was also one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men awardees of 2008. Bernardo has also been involved with several development organizations, like Gawad Kalinga and Caritas Daet. At present, he is a consultant of the local government of Daet town and a board member of Alyansa ng may Kapansanang Pinoy. Project WIRED One of Bernardo’s more recent initiatives is Project WIRED (Work Innovation Through Resource-Enabled Development). This initiative, he explained before the WEF-EA, will allow companies to consider PWDs, provide them with the opportunities for higher quality jobs and give them a chance to prove their worth in society. The first phase of Project WIRED was funded under the 2013 Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund, he said. He received a grant of $18,477 for the project, which was meant to create awareness on how, through e-learning, PWDs can be trained to become skilled virtual assistants and online free-lancers. This funding allowed him to jump-start partnerships and collaborations among local governments, the academe and industries that can employ PWDs. “We want to create awareness, so that companies can give us the chance to be employed, and the government to create a platform to give them the necessary training and skills to be hired by local industries,” Bernardo said. Target companies “Industry players are very receptive and supportive. Our target initially is the online freelance companies, which can utilize the work-from-home model,” he said. The information technology (IT)-business process management industry is one area where PWDs can also be employed, as it does not also require visible or face-to-face interaction, which, he admitted, has largely affected the employability of many PWDs. According to Bernardo, the advancements in technology and the rise of the Internet have advanced social justice and equality. “Through the Internet, we can give more talented individuals, not only from the PWD sector but also from the underprivileged communities, the visibility that they deserve. This is where the online job marketplace can alleviate the plight of the PWD sector. The outsourcing platform is a great opportunity to kick-start their online freelancing career and find more professional opportunities,” he said. “A work-from-home model provides benefits to a person with disability…. [and] livelihood opportunities for persons with disability. We eliminate the two greatest barriers to their employment, which is the problem of mobility and work accessibility,” Bernardo said