By Charles Lijauco
Living and working in one of the busiest financial districts in the Philippines, as a PWD (person with disability).
When I was invited to speak about my experiences as a PWD in the ASEAN Hall, Jakarta, Indonesia, I was never shy to share my stories, struggles, aspirations, and fear that I hoped to overcome — that was, the fear of being great in college, and being unable to land a job… just because I am a Person-with-Disability (PWD), a wheelchair user. The fear of not landing a job after college is daunting for everyone, even more for PWDs who are faced with discrimination and lack of opportunities.
For months leading to my graduation last May, I was anxious. I updated my resume and made it as pleasing as possible. I made sure that my disability is stated in it, just to let recruiters know right away. But the hardest part really was (and still is), choosing the right direction to swim in. As a student journalist, I was tempted to pursue a career in writing, and so media companies were in sight. But as a business graduate, I also thought I could use a work in finance, that way, I could enhance my knowledge about the industry, hoping that I could write about it in the future.
Looking for a job where I could submit my resume was easy, but landing an interview, or even receiving a reply, wasn’t the case all the time.
So one afternoon, I got a call from the HR department of Financial Times (FT), which is “one of the world’s leading news organisations.” Based in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Taguig, I was assured of the accessibility, safety and security of the area.
During college, I had my internship in Deloitte Philippines, also located in BGC. For the duration of the internship, I stayed in the financial district. Much to my surprise, despite my being a wheelchair-user, I still managed to live independently, thanks to the district’s accessibility. And so when I was deciding where to work, BGC was there, at the top… a league of its own.
Fast forward, I got the job and am now working under the Global Finance department of the company.
Living in BGC
First order of the day is to check my Google newsfeed, and my emails. For some reasons, I decided to connect my work email to my phone, this I’m trying to figure if a smart decision or not. But as a starter, it’s nice to see my calendar filled with work and personal events.
I’m living some seven hundred fifty meters away from work, and when I look out my room window, I could really see our building. Somehow, I’m hopelessly wishing that I could zip line my way to work, but instead I wheel my way to some uphill road. On the way to work, passing restaurants, bars, and other residential and commercial buildings, I’ve built a route that I’m most comfortable with. It takes me around ten to fifteen minutes to go to work, depending on foot traffic, luck on stoplights, and my stamina that day. Most of my days, I’m sweating already halfway to work. This I plan to solve by going to the gym every morning to improve my cardio.
On the steepest uphill, I always ask for someone’s help. I’m fortunate that a security guard is always around the area and is always glad to assist. Maybe this I could handle soon as I strengthen myself.
Although I’ve been at work for quite some time now, I still get looks from people, the kind of questioning if I’m really working in the building, or looking for my caretaker. At times, I’d want to confront them and for once, insist that they change their views on PWDs, but that would be a waste of precious energy reserved for wheeling, and so I just let my work and ethics speak for myself. So far, the doubters are becoming few.
On my way home, I take the same route, only I travel faster now that it’s downhill.
On weekends, I take my time to rest, explore, and spend time with my family, on times that they visit me.
Living in a major city, I’ve also managed to handle random conversations with strangers of all races. Fascinating just how unpredictable city life can be only if you’d allow it to be.
Working in BGC
Being in Financial Times is an advantage on its own, especially when you’re interested with the market, business, and writing. When I can, I get and read our newspaper and/or magazine before I get to my office table and work. I find this contributing to my being a future finance journalist. At times, I also listen to FT podcasts, to the Start-Up Stories by Jonathan Moules most specifically, for future use. Including free coffee, milk, and tea, (plus subscription to the FT website!) everything about working for the company has been pleasant.
During my first month, I was tasked to host our Mid-Year Finance Town Hall, and as a starter, I felt happy to have been trusted right away.
Every day at work, I don’t feel like I’m physically different. It is wonderful to know that the people I work with don’t mention my disability to be a hindrance, but instead make things accessible by asking for feedbacks on how to make our office, which is already a spacious and accessible one, be more fit and accommodating for wheelchair users like myself.
My routine at work goes from reading materials, sitting and working for the next hours, and having tea, coffee, and milk in between. This is being corporate, right?
20’s and hoping…
For one, I’m glad I got over my fear by actually stepping up and trying it in the biggest stage. I’m in my 20’s, and I know I could go a long way from here, only if I will not stop innovating myself to be fit and ready for opportunities to come.
Living in BGC, alone at that, I can’t help but think of all the opportunities that could open for everyone, including PWDs, if only other places in the country were as accessible. By that I mean, at the very basic, the presence of spacious sidewalks, ramps, working elevators, and disciplined, respectful people, in general.
As a fresh graduate, I am grateful that I never had to experience the anxiety that comes with waiting for that first job for quite some time.
As a PWD, I am in awe that companies like FT really put efforts and emphasize that diversity, accessibility and inclusion should always be prioritized. If only companies would adapt the same mindset!
I am hopeful for the generations of PWDs to come — hopeful that in the future, they will be judged based on skill set, intelligence, drive to succeed, and experience, and not by physical or mental limitations, at face value. The same that I was hired because of my capabilities, despite my physical incapacity, or as we generally call it, “disability”.
By the numbers
The following major points, as summarized by the Philippine Statistics Authority in one of their press releases, can be found in a discussion paperpublished in March 2013 by Mr. Christian D. Mina of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) entitled “Employment of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the Philippines: The Case of Metro Manila and Rosario, Batangas”:
- The proportion of employed PWDs in the urban area was slightly higher (58.3%) than that in the rural area (41.9%);
- Among PWD groups, those who were hearing-impaired recorded the highest employment rate (40.6%) in the rural area, followed closely by those who where mobility-impaired (28.1%);
- 40.6% of employed PWDs in the rural area were at least high school graduates, whereas more than half (53.2%) of employed PWDs in the urban area were at least high school graduates;
- The leading occupation among PWDs in the urban area was being a masseur, while in the rural area, PWDs were more engaged in farming and livestock and poultry raising;
- The visually-impaired group was composed mainly (62.8%) of masseurs; and
- The majority (97.8%) of employed respondents (of the survey conducted by the proponents of the study) in both areas were considered as vulnerable workers — self-employed and unpaid family workers.
Making sense of the numbers, it could be said that although a number of PWDs are employed, their employment still lacks security and sustainability. This is a problem that could be addressed by analyzing different employment options that could be made available for PWDs depending on capacity, disability, area/region, and other variables.
A call to action…
Let us treat everyone with respect and dignity. This world will be a better place to live in if opportunities will be made available for everyone.
For now, I am maintaining an online presence that campaigns for PWDs in Project Akay. Follow the page for useful information and inspiring stories.
You can follow Charles on his Medium account here.