When disaster strikes!

For a country lying astride the typhoon belt, in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” and in between the Pacific and Eurasian tectonic plates, the Philippines must work on its disaster risk- reduction for people with disabilities (PWDs) now.

And why not? During a conference on disaster- risk reduction in Cagayan De Oro in 2012, it was affirmed that “…PWDs are more vulnerable to disasters than others.” There are about 10 million PWDs in the country, with some 5 million aged 60 years and over and 5 million aged 49 years old and below. There is one PWD in every 20 households in the Philippines, and one in three of them actually heads a household.

But there are no figures to tell how many PWDs suffered in the typhoons, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis that devastated the Philippines. It is thus necessary that, for the time being, Filipinos—PWDs or not—learn sign language. It is a person’s right to live,  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted.

Sign language is also beneficial because it could instill awareness about the “social problem” physical disability has come to be1. It is likewise practicable because a PWD-friendly culture in the Philippines could turn the country more appealing to every local or foreign PWD in the cheapest way possible2.

Language and Behavior

Language shapes thinking. It can “profoundly affect” how a person perceives the world, as well as limit or enhance certain events and interactions, according to cognitive scientists and rhetoricians3.

Language can also influence even the most fundamental abilities of human experience. It can mold the way one thinks about many aspects of the world (based on an empirical evidence), being a part and parcel of many more aspects of thought than was previously realized4.

The Philippines’ commitment to disaster- risk reduction then would work better if it would consider teaching sign language in all levels of schools in the country. Remember: a disaster’s severity depends on how much impact a hazard may cause on a society and environment. The scale of this impact, in turn, would vary on what is taught in schools. If every Filipino individual, family, community and institution would learn how to speak in sign language, we could become more resilient to disasters.

“This year, the focus of the International Day for Disaster Reduction is on some one billion people around the world who live with some form of disability.” United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2013

1There are already 36 PWD organizations listed in the directory of the National Council on Disability Affairs to date. Each of them aims to help PWDs in their living, providing seminars and workshops on one hand, and giving wheelchairs, crutches, and hearing aids on the other. Some also would conduct free medical and dental services; administer centers and schools advocating PWD rights; and train deaf high school graduates in computer technology. But a budget airline recently disallowed a “special” child in its aircraft; a first-class city within the National Capital Region (NCR) shut down its school for deaf children; and the textbooks that could let the blind and partially-sighted people to read and write though touch were considered even though they can neither be produced locally nor translated in Filipino.

2There are 650 million PWDs in the world, 49.7 million of them resides in the country with the largest economy in the world to date (United States) while 21,894 lives in the country with a small and least developed economy (Bhutan).

3This is according to a study conducted by Dan Erwin, a specialist in performance improvement who holds a seminary degree (M. Div.) as well as a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Minnesota.

4This is according to a research of Lera Boroditsky, an assistant professor of cognitive psychology at Stanford University and editor-in-chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology.

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