Special Education Program
For the Blind - Barangay Pines Elementary School
Many countries around the world have embraced the fact that equal opportunites for lifestyle advancements should be afforded to people with physical disabilities and limitations. In the United States, the law called "The Americans with Disabilities Act" (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. The United States Department of Justice enforces the ADA’s requirements. This law mandates the provision of equal opportunities for employment, programs, services and activities, as well as equal access for public accommodations and commercial facilities for the physically disabled people.
In the Philippines, there are similar programs that promote equal opportunities for lifestyle advancement for this group of people. However, due to the country's struggling economy, such programs are still of limited accessibility. There are many physically disadvantaged Filipinos who are still left behind and "in the dark" particularly the children who are blind and deaf mute. Many of them are unable to attend school to explore their ability to learn and become productive citizens. Many parents are hesitant to expose their blind or deaf mute children to the open society fearing the effects of the stereotype treatment. For that reason, these children are deprived from the equal opportunity for lifestyle advancement.
In Oroquieta City, a unique grassroots effort is being carried out by groups of educators who provide early intervention program for the blind and deaf mute. The public elementary school in Barangay Pines has a special education department from which this intervention program for these group of physically challenged young individuals is being conducted. This is believed to be the one and only school in the whole province of Misamis Occidental that provides such program for this special group of children.
This program was launched by the Department of Education and Culture (DOEC) a few years ago for several regions of the Philippines. However, it was only the Oroquieta City's District II (with its office at Pines Central Elementary School) who accepted the challenge. At the inception of this program, DOEC sent a teacher to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City to undergo a specialized training. According to reports, this teacher was the only one in the area who was fully trained and proficient to provide specialized training to these group of disabled students. The program also covers other districts including the Aloran and Lopez Jaena School Districts. According to Dr. Conol, the reported drawback of this program is the non-availability of proper teaching tools, especially the Braille technical equipment.
Today, two professional educators, Aileen Abuton-Zaballero and Miladith Bajade-Polutan are directly responsible for this special school program. Based on their records, last year's attendance in this program was still at a bare minimum of five (5) students. Many parents of disabled children do not feel the need and importance to send their children to school due to obvious reasons..... poverty or fear of the effects of negative stereotypes. According to the reports, some of these parents feel that no matter what they do to help their children, they still feel that the children would still end up being beggars when they grow up. This is because majority of these parents need education themselves, especially those who live in remote places. It is therefore, important that the parents are also orientated to the program or given the opportunity to understand on how this program can provide benefits to disabled children. The children need psychoeducational assessment and therapy to relieve fear from negative stereotypes.
The teachers have dedicated their enormous amount of energy in promoting this program. They go the "extra miles" to provide these children with the most important route to improve their lives. According to these two educators, they pick up the kids one by one everyday and drive them to and from school. They do not receive nor claim mileage reimbursements because they said that they are doing this "out of the goodness of their hearts." Inspite of challenges and drawbacks, the teachers are able to keep these children in school year after year. Last year the children (with their teachers) went to an all-expense paid summer camp in Laguna where the children were able to meet others with the same challenges. They described their experience as the best time of their lives and the teachers commented that "they had never seen 5 students that happy!"
Life itself has many obstacles and challenges, however, God has given each of us the basic knowledge, skills and abilities to do whatever we want. Each of us has a dream or goal in life. One may dream of becoming rich or one may simply dream of earning an education to become productive in life. It is up to us to determine which route or what means to use in order to materialize such dream or goal.
If there is no early intervention given to young children with established physical disabilities, they become at risk of being socially displaced. The crucial difference of the disabled Filipino children from the disabled American children is that these Filipino children need a law that protects their rights to equal opportunities for everything that everyone has. A law such as the ADA in the United States can most certainly assist these group of physically disadvanted people establish and achieve their goals in life. It is essential to provide them with equal access through special education to achieve functional independence, such as having the skills and abilities to live a normal life as possible. One of the ways to stimulate their developmental growth is to allow them to learn in natural environments, thus enabling them to work at their own pace and level.
Because there is no government allocated funds for a designated program, such as this, the disabled Filipino children are unable to have the basic foundation to lead a productive life. For this reason, I urge everyone and my "Kababayans" and friends to see at what you can do to help this group of human beings. Being a leader in changing negative stereotypes relating to the abilities of blind and other disabled individuals is a noble task not only in the eyes of the people, but in the eyes of God.
The Narcisa Bayutas Foundation (which is expected to commence next year), will include the Barangay Pines Elementary School - Special Education for the Blind among the scholarship's recipients. It is our hope to promote equal human rights and dignity to children with physical disabilities. By doing so, we hope to assist the school in providing these children with technical rehabilitative teaching tools and equipment, such as learning the Braille methods. Giving them the tools to experience the reality of success in life without limits can make them better citizens, thus helping create a better society.