Accessible Transport Begins with the One In-charge of Driving Them

One challenge most PWD have accessing services is the lack of transport and if there are available means, often are not accessible. Most of the time I argue that “in the real world” without external help from NGO people just have to deal with what is there because once they leave, funds run out, people will just have to deal with the reality and make the decision to win over it and access the services or let it win over them and be miserable.

The Philippines one of the first country to have disability law, long before I was born (or maybe I am just a baby), and many other neighboring countries in SEA copied that and adapted in their own culture and context.

But let’s be honest, our respect for people with disabilities still very low. The law does not reflect that in the way our public services are run in this country – people with injuries, disabilities, elderly and other vulnerable groups are second-hand citizens who have to keep pushing and fighting to get to the front of the row and be heard. We’re making some long overdue development but not in the area of public transport.

With my current situation, I am hanging by the “estribo” and observing how a simple visit to the hospital can be a big production.

Before I get carried away, let me re-tell here a little bit of my accessibility and transport challenge and share a few insights on how situations can be improved.

So, when I arrived in the Philippines, coming from a 24-hour journey, around 10,000 kilometers away, I was picked up by a van whose driver doesn’t know how to help me get in from my wheelchair. Which was an insult to the amount of care I had from the hospital to the airport to the plane until I deplane in the Philippine airport.

I just told my sister, 5 weeks post-injury and surgery that no amount of experience in rehabilitation, teaching, demonstrating and grading students prepared me to be a patient but in the case of the last stretch to home – that experience helped a lot!

The airport support staffs are not trained to handle people with disabilities and doesn’t know how to do handling and trasnfers. My teaching skills helped a bit, giving simple instructions how to position the chair when I transfer seats because I don’t want to have more injuries.

Having been pampered from the first and second leg of the journey, my expectations of the third and last leg would be exceptional, simply because it’s home and I pride myself on being Filipino – we go the extra mile! But I was mistaken.

My injury is not life-threatening and I received the best care possible, so there really was no need to be fuzzy and feeling special. But after a long journey, in a cast, I was ready to collapse and be lifted by my family that will receive me at home to bed. Instead, I have to struggle to go in a van using my butt again and endangering my leg hitting the ground in case I lost my grip.

The driver of the van doesn’t know how to help me get in. I was expecting my pick-up to be similar to the ones I had in Tunisia or at least it was meant to pick-up passenger like me and drivers have training on how to handle situation like mine.

Practiced what I preached, I sucked it up and made the situation work for me, anyway in a couple of hours I will be in my family home. In the end, the driver was nice, he drove well and he was not properly briefed, so why shot the messenger.

That experience was a month ago, I am over it but I have to take a cue on my experience to drive a point on the issue of accessible transport at the same time upgrading the skills of our drivers.

I don’t drive myself, but if I do, I would undergo a first-aid training to be prepared in events of an accident and in my case, to at least know how to handle people in delicate situations. If I do a survey now and ask how many of the drivers in my village knows CPR or how to carry someone or what not to do in cases of accident, I will have a lot of success finding how many DO NOT know that those who do.

Proper transfer technique, from the wheelchair or any assistive device to cars, bus, train even plane and in the Philippines to jeepney (that is something to think about) is a good skill to have. One reason why drivers don’t care about PWD and the elderly is that they don’t understand our (the disabled part not the elderly!) situation, we should make them understand by training them simple transfer technique so they will feel useful and helpful.

Last but not least, and the most important is to require drivers to have a mandatory re-examination of the traffic rules and regulations and their driving skills at fairly regular intervals – five years maybe?.

I don’t know if it will increase accessibility to transport but what I do know is that it will increase peoples understanding of disability, increase their compassion towards their fellow-men and appreciate their abilities by providing them the opportunity to be mobile and the road will be safer if drivers are more responsible.

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Key To Happiness In Your Job Is To Work With Passion

I’m officially jobless and at the moment disabled. So you can say I have time on my hands, so I am going to update my blog site.

Actually, I still have work to finish from my last mission, but I am happy to finally break-free from the so-called “cursed” mission and will start fresh as a consultant. I am not at liberty to talk about the mission itself (this being a public platform) nor of the people I worked with. But the reason some of us called it a cursed mission was because of the stings of misfortune it had during the year and of course my unfortunate accident in the place that I had misgivings to move from the moment it was offered to me.

In fact, the moved to Tunisia made me realized how badly my position and myself was disregarded but I forged ahead because more than myself, the people we help needed better services than the accident that happened and found myself back in my parents home. I remembered something that was told to me last December.

A wise man told me “you deserve to be in an organization that celebrates your achievements and appreciates all that you’ve done”.

I trusted the guy, though we met only a couple of times, the meeting was always very productive. I guess he was able to see the efforts we put into what we were doing, he appreciated me as a person and saw my passion and wit in all the interactions we had and acknowledges what our team had done in the country in spite of the context and the challenges we had to face. While at the same time, my organization has threatened and willing to part with me because I couldn’t accept to live in a house not livable according to my standards and to the cost they are willing to pay.

 

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I don’t mind living in tents when necessary than a house shoved your throat because its procedure

 

There are thankless job around and being a humanitarian aid worker can be one of them. I say that from experience because there are a lot of things that happen within the scope of this work that is hard to explain.

How many of my friends really understand what I do? Unless they worked with me directly, they will know that sometimes I write procedures that nobody would care to follow or give advice that no guarantee will be even considered. We only see the surface of the crisis once reported in the news, but we don’t know the aftermath of it, the effect on the people that before are progressive and because of the war or calamity become vulnerable. They would not know the amount of work needed to get things off the ground, the get services accessible, the number of negotiations and paper works required to get access to funds to keep our work going, and many more.

 

Olive harvest in Gaza is a form of inclusion activities 

 

How many people understand the word vulnerable? Not many, because most of us are consumed with our own problem that we don’t see beyond them and feel for others who have more significant issues than us. We sometimes live in a bubble that when it burst we don’t know what to do next Well the people I encounter didn’t ask to be vulnerable, their situation made them, that’s why I don’t accept the reactions of Europe to the migration crisis happening from the Middle East to Africa and Myanmar.

In my organization, we kept talking about inclusion, in fact, they even changed their name to it because they said it reflects more their values than its current name (which somehow I agree) if only people really understand how inclusion works. How it is translated into viable action, resulting in sustainable change.

It is hard, it is thankless, but in spite of all the nonunderstanding or misunderstanding, I continue to do what I do. Because early in my career, I made a promise to myself that I will do this because I believed that this is what God wants me to do – to build lives including mine, one brick at a time. I also decided to only do my best and with passion even if the best that I know is underappreciated or not even considered at all as long as the end results improvement in the lives of the people that really matter. Passion is another subject hard to measure or quantify. I cannot explain it as clear as I could especially to friends who already told me to quit but I wouldn’t, and I leave it at that.

So even with my current state – being confined to home strapped to my cast, not able to move with our personal assistance, I am happy that I had contributed something to the work done in my last mission. My friends keep telling me it’s a sign that I have to slow down and force myself to rest now that my contracts finish and take time to think about my future.

How I Managed Going to the Toilet Over 39,000 feet?

Its been two weeks since my accident and one week since I am back at home.

I see my life in slow motion, and all the lessons I taught to my colleagues in the field are flooding back to me.

I realized that learning and navigating with assistive devices is not easy. When I was teaching people, I say it like I just asked them to count in English and repeated several times and they are pro, they are on their own. But it’s not like counting. Its a whole new level of skills and right now I can say I try to walk the talk.

I am ambulating with a walker and sometimes with crutches and transported long distance by wheelchair while my fractured leg is sticking out hoping nobody trip over it and give me lots of pain in the process (well that’s me being selfish).

You think that with walkers moving around is easy, well it is if you’re rolling it off in front of you to get to where you are going, but if you need to hop all the time it is not. I only stand on one leg, while I try hard not to forget to lift my injured leg or I will be in trouble, so the mind and body have to be in sync not to overstep and fall. Then there’s the upper body strength that I need to work on. It didn’t help that before my injury I was suffering from tennis elbow pain and was using elbow support (that is because of the nature of my work). So with the elbow and shoulder pain, my grip is weak generally, so I also have to guard that.

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The most challenging so far is navigating the toilet, how I managed that 39,000 feet was a challenge but bordering to easy.

I fractured my left leg in another country, after a week of hospitalization I was given fit to fly certificate and discharged by my doctor. The flight was booked for business class for the almost 24-hour journey across three continents and three airports. Posh eh? I needed to be injured to experience luxury in the air, but besides that, I was dreading the whole journey mainly because I don’t know how I will manage to use the toilet?

1482282938094The airline stewardess knew about my situation that I am medically evacuated, and I will need help, so they were prepared. I was assigned a seat close to the door and the nearest toilet. Space was enough for me to feel comfortable and my injured leg was supported all through the journey. Before we left the airport, I explained to them my worries — if I will need to use the lavatory, which with the space in each, I would not be able to close the door with my leg sticking out. They figured out a way to ensure I am fully covered discreet, and I can do whatever I needed to do without a problem. On the two flights, I have them on call and when I needed to go two would be stationed at each entrance holding the curtains and blocking people. In the end, the journey was not that bad after all, in fact, I was looking forward to using the lavatory in the airplane than in the airport during my layover because I felt more at ease the first half of the journey than navigate the accessible toilet in the airport alone.

 

At home was another story.  My parent’s house was built in the early 60’s the idea of space and accessibility was not yet that known. Since I arrived, I planted myself in my parent’s room on the first floor while dad is in my old bedroom on the second floor (that is with extra caution when he is climbing up and down the stairs) for easy access to the other rooms in the house.  The idea of adapting the different rooms, putting up ramps and rails, grab bars everywhere, adapted toilet seat and showers with plastic over my leg is our new reality.

 

Showers like having hammam every day without the massage

But home is home — it is easy to make things and situation work out for me. I work in my room, I am stretch out on the bed while I discuss with partners in the field (in Turkey) or when I am bored, I stretched out in the sitting room and watch the day unfold in my home. Those times, I get to mingle with my family, watch TV and join them during meals even if I am eating away from the dining room. I go to toilet hoping in my walker except I take a longer time to go to and from and I have someone follow me all the time.

Still, I am confined and not able to move on my own. My doctor tells me four more weeks in my cast until I start to wear boots and start putting weight on my injured leg and start my rehabilitation. That means I have one more month to review my life, my future and how this experience can make me better in my chosen field.

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I am thankful to the people I encountered throughout my journey, from the time of my accident to the time I arrived at my home; all were very helpful and very accommodating. If only it is the same everywhere to everyone because from experience, not every people with injury, person with disability and elderly are given the  same attention as I had, doesn’t have the same luxury and attention that I did and had to struggle to go from one place to the next for the lack of assistive devices or personal assistance.

I just hope by the time I am back on two feet without the assistive devices or personal assistance new adventures are waiting for me to spread my wings enriched with these new experience.

 

The day I become a person with injury and disabled

Having settled in my new house, life was beginning to look normal.

Waking up early. preparing my breakfast of either warm chocolate croissant or muesli with freshly brewed coffee. shower and finally getting my nook in the dining area as my makeshift work from home office.

All that has changed on the 7th day! I had an accident and broke my leg.

Emergency room 

I thought I have seen it all with all the beneficiaries I encountered in my work life but not yet. I’ve seen it all when it came full circle and I am in the middle of it.

The nurse came and showed me my radiography plate and a clear spiral break in my fibula and in the tip of the tibia. I was told, I will undergo surgery within the day and need to recover before I could return to my previous life – which was just hours before.

Realization 

I know what to expect but I was still not in touch with my new reality. I was still hoping I am still sleeping and only dreamt I broke my leg. The moment I was transferred to my room and asked to wait for the specialist, the truth is starting to dawn on me. I am feeling all different emotion that goes from the fact that I am going to be operated on alone, the first such surgery in my life and alone for the most part of it after.

I live far from home. With no family to assist me, I am at the mercy of hospital staffs who don’t speak my language and my second language … I am in a francophone country! Why am I here? Well, ask my boss they know how to live my life better than me.

I am officially a PWI 

Soon all different specialist came to visit and interview me. Thanks to my adopted family, they helped translate for me. I understood very much what will happen while they prepare me for the surgery.

My attending came last, luckily he speaks English and his pep talk was not foreign to me — it was more a review of all the training I provided to my staffs back in the days. I know I will be out of commission for almost 3 months and the first 2 will be the most crucial — the healing of the bone without stress meaning I cannot put weight on my left leg. My right leg will do all the standing, hoping and balancing for me.

I will have to use assistive devices with at least one minimum personal assistance. My functional independence score is low!

Angel in our midst 

What will happen to me now? I need help.

That’s when I realized all through this ordeal I have met people that extended their support to me willingly. They made me feel I was not alone, held my hand when I was feeling nervous before I go to surgery, was there when I am out of it. Visited me and kept me company while I was confined and people that helped arranged my new future, keep my stuff to go with me when I was ready to leave to go home to the Philippines.

I am very grateful in spite of my new reality, that I’ve met these people that I considered angels in my midsts.

Now I am home, I experienced how a person with a disability experienced when traveling. The inaccessibility of simply going to the toilet, or ordering food, or climbing stairs or simply changing seats from wheelchairs.

I was lucky to have had the help all through my journey across three continents, but not every person with a disability has the same support as  I did especially those in the war-torn countries I was tasked to help before I become one with them (at least for the time being).

Dee

Planning Without You Knowing It

Having dinner one night the guy I am seeing asked me a very serious question “how is your life?” followed by more profound question “are you happy?”. Not understanding, I asked back what he meant by those questions, which he elaborated by asking what my plans are? Knowing myself, I gladly obliged and listed my plans at least for the next five or so years.

Curious, I asked back about his plans and having a slight idea of what he will answer me, he simply said: “I have no plans … just wake up, go to work and come home tired and the day repeats.”  Then he went on saying he likes to live in a small house in front of the beach so he can just swim all day and fish for food.

I asked about money, and said: “I don’t need money, will just have to use some of the fish in exchange for what I will need.” The conversation eventually led for him to tell me he will raise sheep for meat and milk, and he will get at least two sheep every year and give it to people in exchange for anything he needs, even sex. Well, I guess the last part was a bit of a stretch, but then I told him, “you just laid out your plans without you knowing them.” And he was quiet.

For some people, planning is daunting especially if you don’t have all the cards in a row, situation and life circumstances can easily thwart well thought out plans, but that’s just how it is. When it happens, you just go back to the beginning and start over or start from where you left off.  Haci, the guy I am seeing (he insisted I put his name because he said he has one), knew well that when I say something or schedule an outing, it can change at the last minute. There are times he will just go along and wait until it happens. That means the world around me – mostly my work evolve and I go along as it does and try to be sane until I get to where I need to be.

But in spite of the uncertainties, it is good to know what you will do tomorrow or the day after or next week, month and years. It gives you a little bit of guidance where you’re heading, and like Haci he thinks he doesn’t make a plan, but he does.

I know that he wants to start his wedding dress design studio or shop abroad, but he also knows he’s not yet ready. He uses his current work to get as much training and experience as he could including learning how to saw using the high-speed machine to eventually do what he wants in the future. Because I know eventually he will not want to work for someone, instead, he wants to be on his own, earning his own keeps and gaining good reputations for his creations, and I know too that he has a way of achieving them we just don’t think alike for him to believe me. In his mind, it’s not a plan, they are just thoughts because the opportunity presents itself.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, so next time when someone asks me what I want to do in my life, I’ll remember the small house by the beach with sheep in the other room.

Adjustments to the realities of war and violence

Death is the ultimate price to pay in war or in any situation that involves violence.

But what if you didn’t die when exposed to the cruelty of the world? That person ends up disabled changing the dynamics of his or her life and of the lives of the people around them. Especially those closes to him or her whose coping with the change also affects their being starting from their psyche.

I call it the ripple effect as a consequence of trauma.

The impact of disability, which brings change to the person himself is too much. It is life changing, altering everything he worked all his life for. Everything that they know is normal is altered forever. In their mind, more often than not their lives are over, and with that thought, it is often difficult to convince people of the alternatives. that life continues with some accommodations to start over and build a new reality.

Like in any situation of trauma, people with disabilities undergo the process of grief and acceptance. No one can do it alone, help should be available when traumatic events happen in one’s life.

The assurance that “you are not alone” should be there to see the person through the initial shock of the new reality of being alive and of being different.

The difference should be a part when the person learns to accept that it does not change anything more than the appearance. His or her mental health should be considered immediately to allow reality to set in with less dramatic effect on his understanding of his or her new person. Accepting together with him or her would be the closest people in his life because, like rearing children, acceptance of change is a “village”.

Not knowing what is there for him or her, and for them further traumatizes the person’s mind and body that is why it is important that during emergencies, psychological first aid – counseling is available and accessible to all.

Mental health support is for all the people that surround him or her as it will buoy them over to the new reality of their lives and prepare for their environment. This is accompanying immediate medical and physical support to get the person back on his or her feet and start to follow the process until a new life, an accepted reality is reached empowering the person himself and those around him into continue living because at least that they can do something about it.

No one support is more important – be it physical, medical or mental health support. We have to look at the person and acknowledge that what s/he needs is a holistic approach to allow full and complete recovery and continue to be part of the environment with the support of the people around them, equally able to adjust to the new life brought on by senseless war and violence in our world.

#NoMoreWar

Oh Dear It’s Been Six Months!

What would you do if someone come and complained she doesn’t understand what her team is doing when they go to the field and she’s in her job for 6 months now?

This is a serious question.

I get this far too often these days, and I don’t know what to do with the person asking. She’s been hired as a program manager with only 2 people under her supervision which should be easy and we all started at the same time, 6 months ago!

She’s claimed to have worked in the community before joining the team and knows her way around management, so there should be no problem. But there is, and I am getting tired of the same old question and complaints. To think that I have no direct relation with this person made the issue even more annoying and compelling at the same time.

To think that I have no direct relation with this person made the issue even more annoying and compelling at the same time because they all come up to me and ask, complain and whine (for the others involved).

I don’t want to come across as someone very nasty, but sometimes, I question our hiring process – why do we hire these kinds of people? That after 6 months on the job still seems like they just started – doesn’t know anything even if I am aware of the fact that she has all the information.

This is not very progressive, and it’s making me angry.

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In my line of work, I come across all kinds of people. I am mostly patient and tolerant because I was a newbie once in my life so I know how it is to venture into humanitarian work. It can be like “pressure cooker” but only if you let pressure gets to you and this project, it shouldn’t be one of those.

That is why I am confused … maybe you can help me.