By: DANG U. KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus
As the nation prepares for the upcoming midterm elections, the autism community is reminded that our priceless votes determine the future society our children with autism will grow old in. The individuals with autism who suffer most from the lack of basic services or opportunities to be contributing members of society are very likely the ones who will not be participating in the political discourse. They are counting on the rest of us to select leaders who are cognizant of the national crisis that is autism.
This week’s Angel Talker Mona Magno-Veluz, Autism Society Philippines’ national secretary tackles election-related concerns of our community. Find her on Twitter: @mightymagulang.
Autism advocates at last year’s US national elections, boldly recognized that autism is a far-reaching crisis that needs federal attention. The organization Autism Speaks (http://www.autismspeaks.org) called for the “Autism Vote,” which urged candidates running for seats in the White House and the Senate to commit to three principles which can be the germ of a national autism policy:
• “The autism crisis demands a focused, coordinated and accountable response from public health agencies.”
• Federal research funding should cover “a broader initiative to unlock the secrets of the human brain that would produce dramatic results.”
• Health care and insurance reform should include affordable access to effective, “evidence-based autism treatments and applied behavior analysis” to benefit families with autism.
While we have not yet managed to gather families living with autism as a unified voting block in this country, our community has participated in many initiatives that leveraged the power of legislation to make positive change. Philippine Republic Act No. 7277 or the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons is an example of how a law can open doors for the executive branch to make benefits and services available to families and individuals living with disabilities. This piece of legislation paved the way for many new programs like the creation of Persons with Disability Affairs Office in every local government unit, and the provision of discounts on basic commodities, among other PWD benefits.
This development, strangely, runs inverse to the decrease in number of PWDs who vote in national elections. According to a 2012 Social Weather Station survey, the figure had gone down from 60 percent in 2007 to 54 percent in 2010. The Commission on Elections had to launch an aggressive drive for PWD registration and empowerment over the last year. Private non-profits like the Fully Abled Nation campaigned for PWD education and enablement, which included an assessment of the situation of PWDs, focus group discussions and dedicated surveys nationwide. These activities piloted electoral reform in Bohol, and development and application of disability-inclusive volunteer management systems in Cebu, among others.
Family members of individuals with autism should share in the responsibility of promoting voting this May 13. It is important that we ensure our PWAs exercise their right to suffrage and help them through the process. And like everything else in our lives, that trip to the voting booth should be an affair planned weeks ahead. Below are some tips to make voting easier for them and their campanions.
* UNDERSTAND. Discuss with your PWA the duties and responsibilities of the positions. Discuss the candidates objectively and highlight their strengths. Use language and tools matched to what your PWA can appreciate.
* RESEARCH. Support candidates with a strong history of accomplishments that benefitted the PWD community. Look for new candidates with platforms that support the concerns of the disabled.
* PREPARE. Download a sample ballot from the Comelec website or make a simple list of names for your PWA to copy when he gets to the voting booth.
* CONDITION. Try to visit the voting precinct days ahead and have a discussion with your PWA on the possible conditions/scenarios that can happen on election day that can distress him or her such as heat, noise, and long lines. Anticipate likely problems.
* MONITOR. Keeping abreast with the developments of the elections, and involving your PWA, can be an exercise in improving his or her understanding of what it means to be an active citizen.
* ADAPT. If the voting experience did not go smoothly, make mental notes and plan for the next one. Individuals with disabilities may apply for absentee voting so you need not make that trip to the crowded voting precincts.
Government can play a big role in improving the lives of individuals with autism. Children with autism need to get into publicly funded therapy and public SPED programs. Adults with autism need training and jobs. All individuals with autism need to be treated with dignity. They need to develop to become productive members of society. Let us keep the welfare of our PWAs in mind when we cast our ballots on May 13.
(Autism Society Philippines is holding for the first time a seminar on Dance Therapy on May 25 at the Bridges Foundation in Quezon City. Teacher Anna Rivera will demonstrate how ABA principles/structured teaching can be applied even in learning hip-hop dancing to CWAs. Meanwhile, ASP’s regular family support group meeting is on May18. For details, follow ASP on Facebook, Twitter and its blogspot.)
This article appeared in print and online by Manila Bulletin on 6 May 2013.