Plight of children with disabilities ‘exacerbated’ by COVID-19 lockdown – group
MANILA, Philippines — Quarantine measures imposed amid threats of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have “exacerbated” the predicament of children with disabilities in the country, a child advocacy group’s survey has shown.
The restrictions have “affected children with disabilities and their families through the lack of access to education services, child development centers or supervised neighborhood programs,” according to the findings of a survey conducted by Save The Children Philippines presented by the organization’s basic education adviser Sierra Mae Paraan during a Senate hearing on Thursday.
The survey was conducted online last May and had 40,066 respondents, according to the group.
“The quarantine measures exacerbated, as part of the impact of COVID-19, the current disadvantage that children with disabilities are already facing,” Paraan said.
Paraan noted that 45 percent of the respondents said they “cannot access education services.”
“We attribute this to the fact that the previous school year was shortened because of the effect of COVID-19,” she said.
The parents and caregivers of children with disabilities also suffered a loss of income and employment, she added.
Almost 25 percent of the respondents, meanwhile, said cases of child and domestic abuse ”are happening in their home”, according to Paraan.
“They are saying that the most common form is verbal or emotional,” she said, adding that children with disabilities are “more prone to abuse” even prior to the pandemic.
Moreover, the survey’s findings showed that “there is a clamor for alternative therapy sessions and clear government plans and actions for persons with disabilities.”
While 68.8 percent of the respondents said they receive information regarding COVID-19 “primarily” from television and social media, 26.3 percent expressed that “information disseminated is not in (an) accessible and inclusive formats,” the survey also found.
A civil society group for education reforms, on the other hand, said children and youth with disabilities “remain one of the most marginalized groups in education.”
“This is despite the fact that we have started establishing SPEd (special education) centers in the 1970s [and] we have adopted inclusive education framework since the 1990s,” said Merzi Chan, an advocacy officer for E-Net Philippines.
Citing 2018 data from PhilHealth, Chan noted that one in seven or around 5.1 million Filipino children are living with disabilities.
Enrollment figures from the Department of Education (DepEd) for School Year 2017-2018, however, showed that there were only a total of 304,604 learners with disabilities, she added.
“So wala pa sa 10 percent ang participation ng learners with disabilities sa ating education system,” Chan pointed out.
Chan also cited DepEd data showing that for School Year 2017-2018, there were only 446 SPEd centers and 230 schools with SPEd programs across the country with 2,885 SPEd teachers.
“If we can compare this po sa overall data of our learners, we have 47,000 public schools overall and we have 800,000 public school teachers overall but this is the data we got for SPEd education,” she added.
According to Director Leila Areola of DepEd’s Bureau of Learning Delivery-Student Inclusion Division, the department has devised a learning continuity plan for special education.
“The first thing we did was to harvest existing materials we already have in the different schools, particularly those implementing special education and with the self-learning modules we have developed for all our learners, we’re going to convert these self-learning modules to different accessible formats,” Areola told the Senate panel.
DepEd has been preparing for blended learning, which is a combination of online distance learning and in-person delivery of learning materials to the homes of learners, for the reopening of classes on August 24. Teaching with the use of radio and television will also be an option considered for students who do not have access to a computer or the internet.
Areola said “inclusive e-books or e-modules” will be available.
“These e-books will be embedded with sign language interpretation and audio will also be provided,” the DepEd official said.
“For radio, the self-learning modules will be converted to radio scripts and, eventually, audio lessons. For TV, and even for the DepEd commons, we will also be converting the different self-learning modules to video lessons and part of that video lesson should be that sign language interpretation,” she added.
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