I had another extraordinary experience with another achieving Filipina, but she’s different because she’s handicapped. I never noticed her condition while she was watching TV with my husband behind the sofa. But what was striking with her was how she beamed to everyone with a big smile. It was my first time to see her but she waived to me and said “hi, Ate!”
I saw that she was different when it was time to partake the food on the table. She is orthopedically impaired, having a birth defect called “club feet”. I was so impressed with how she skillfully maneuvered her wheelchair around, getting independently what she needed, never needing anybody to assist her. Very highly functional, not letting her handicap be a limitation to do the major activities in her life. I got the chance to stay with her during dinner and we exchanged our personal stories.
Her name is Carla dela Cruz, 17 years old, was sent here last year on an exchange student visa. She recalled how she was chosen among 230 applicants all over the Philippines; she was the only handicapped among the 41 able-bodied exchange students who got accepted. She reminisced how President Arroyo invited them to Malacanang to honor them before they left the country, slightly disappointed because there were no accessibility in the Palace for handicapped people like her. She was carried up and down the steep stairs (3 floors) of the Palace while her wheelchair was brought by somebody else behind her. She’s the 9th of 11 children in the family. She is very reluctant to go back to the Philippines this July, hoping that after 2 years she can come back to the US again.
How is she treated here in America?
“I noticed how free I am to do everything I want here in the US especially in my leisure time. I like how the people here treat a disabled person. While I am here in the US, I try to show other people how independent I am. I was able to perform in the different States here in the US for the theater arts”. Carla is also an achiever and an active Girl Scout in her school in Maryland. She’s also trying to get herself involved in sports. “I am very fortunate because I became one of the 41 exchange students from the Philippines. It encouraged me a lot to be able to do everything in my life”.
When people with and without disabilities live, work, play and go to school side-by-side, people with disabilities get noticed and accepted for their contributions just like everyone else. They don’t get singled out for their disabilities. With this acceptance, the barriers to inclusion begin to disappear. (“Inclusion Works Here”, 1993)