These past two months, I was invited to attend two disability-related conferences. One was the three-day Philippine Community Based Rehabilitation Congress from August 25-27. The other one was the 1st National Disability Summit from September 24 – 25. Incidentally, both of them were held on the same place, the Manila Pavilion Hotel in UN Avenue. The National Council on Disability Affairs was the lead host on both events.
On both occasions, I was there only to listen to the various resource speakers, join the breakaway sessions and photograph the event. I have no intention of giving a piece of my mind. However, I was willingly assigned to assist in the presentation of our group during the first event. I was also unwillingly assigned to facilitate in the group’s proposals and present it on the plenary for the second event. I was also tasked to share my insight of the summit from the academic point of view.
On both conferences, there were NO DEAF PERSONS invited. Those were truly disappointing activities because among those sectors involved with disability, only the deaf people were not represented. I had to bring two of my deaf students on the next day so that they can at least be “SEEN”.
On both events, the term “INCLUSIVE EDUCATION” was tackled, rather violently on the first one, and a more subdued yet equally rancorous on the second one. The debate focused more on it’s definition, which was ambiguous as per every sector who defines it. An advocate for the blind group, a certain overstaying foreigner from up north (I don’t want increase his google search rank so I won’t mention his name here.), pounced his belief that the education sector must embrace inclusive education lock, stock and barrel. He claimed that Special Education teachers must be abolished. Instead they should be trained as specialized teachers. All teachers must become inclusive teachers. No more special classes for special children. His principles were met with serious resentments, some raised eyebrows from most participants.
I was also irritatingly surprised that another so called advocate on the rights of deaf persons for more than two decades, another foreigner (I wish these closed-minded foreigners with antiquated beliefs should stop meddling with our people and go home to their own countries.) and a man of God, asserts that deaf people in the Philippines have very poor abstract intelligence. He also stressed that most deaf are having difficulty understanding simple English instructions. Now, where did he get that impression? His assertions were highly derogatory and too judgmental. Probably those deaf people in his own world have low verbal ability. But I can categorically assert, not in my world!
After hearing those two foreign bodies force their own definition of inclusive education to the group aside from the many conflicting views from other participants, I was led to believe that there must be a more in-depth, multi-sectoral study on how it should or should not be implemented in the Philippines. Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) says that the States Parties:
… recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and life long learning directed to:
- The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity;
- The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential;
- Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.
While exercising the rights of disabled persons to inclusive education, it must also take appropriate measures to:
…Facilitate the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community; Article 3 Section b.
Therefore, the United Nations clearly recognizes and supports the use of SIGN LANGUAGE and respects the IDENTITY and CULTURE of the Deaf Community. In this case, how can education be inclusive if the medium of instruction being used in classroom opposes with the language being used by the deaf?
A typical Philippine primary school uses the vernacular Filipino or Tagalog together with English. Since these are spoken languages, it won’t be difficult for us hearing people to fully understand them. Aside from that, these languages have been taught, learned and used as the hearing child’s first languages.
But a deaf person does not have a first spoken language. Sign language is primarily their “first” language. It is a non-spoken and visual language. It does not have a direct equivalent in either the English or Filipino language.
How do we reconcile these entirely different languages where a deaf child is exposed to? Should we “force” them to speak so that they can focus more on English? Or should we accept their sign language, understand it, learn from it, use it, adapt it and cultivate it?
This issue has been discussed and debated countless times with hearing people as protagonists. We have been dictating education to them since “education” was invented. Deaf education in the Philippines started more than 100 years ago. Has there been an improvement since then? Don’t we think it’s about time that the deaf people should be more involved in these discussions? It’s their rights that we’re securing, not ours. I hope that when the people from the government especially from the Department of Education start making in-depth discussions about inclusive education, they should at least give the deaf people a chance to be heard. I support the full participation of all persons with disabilities including the deaf groups in forming and planning framework on education curriculum and system for them.