Overcoming Hearing Loss

A child who suffers from a hearing disability may never learn how to speak, only make unintelligible utterances. The ability to hear is crucial in a child’s ability to learn a language and this is why it is important that a mother must be able to identify early on if her child suffers from a hearing disability. One of the first few signs of hearing loss in a child is when they do not respond when called. While a baby may not be able to communicate in terms of words, a child knows the feelings of the parents based on the intonation of their voice. This is true if the baby is able to hear. Aside from being able to hear the sounds, a baby can also “feel” the sound. A distressed mother can express the strength of her emotions through the vibrations made by her voice which many of us take for granted.

Continue reading

PWDPhil partners with Angono PDAO for the PWEDe Initiative

Finally, the rain.

With generous assistance from the Rotary Club of Makati Dasmarinas, PWDPhil has partnered with the Angono PDAO, headed by Amormio Vitor for the pilot project of the PWDe Initiative. Continue reading

Uber Manila hires PWD drivers

Uber Manila yesterday launched a program that fully supports the giving of income generating opportunities to Pinoys with disabilities. Uber Manila’s program already includes certain partner-drivers who claim to be hard of hearing but not totally deaf. These drivers spoke to the media of the benefits of the income they have made from being a partner-driver using their own vehicles. Uber clearly identifies which drivers are disabled by showing a PWD icon on their profiles and it will be the choice of the passenger to ride with them or not.

Yes it’s a good move, but…

In 2009, the World Federation of the Deaf made a statement on the right of deaf to drive a car or any other vehicle.

screenshot-2016-10-14-121045

We at PWDPhil.com support this statement and that Pinoys with Disabilities should be given the right to drive a motor vehicle. While there have been no studies proving that deaf drivers are more prone to accidents than normal-hearing drivers, it has been well-established in many studies that sound is not a primary consideration when driving a motor vehicle. The most crucial sense to driving is the sense of sight and the sense of touch. While hearing can be complimentary, it is not as crucial as sight. That is why we can still drive safely even while the radio is at high volume. We also believe that many of our disabled brothers and sisters are already marginalized as it is and giving them opportunities for mobility would be more than welcome.

How is Uber Manila ready for the PWD partner-driver?

However, PWDs have rights too. Such as the VAT exemption, exemption from coding, premium and reserved parking space near ramps and building entrances and tax relief. How Uber Manila intends to address these issues and ensure that the deaf drivers are given their due, CEO Laurence Cua did not say. Yes, they have technologies that will assist the driver such as the Beethoven technology where calling is automatically disabled if you are trying to contact a PWD driver. There is also the question of protection for the PWD driver as many PWDs are subject to ridicule and humiliation. Uber Manila also made no mention of how they can protect their PWD partner-drivers during these instances. They did mention the need to educate riders on discriminating against a PWD driver, but there is also the rider’s right to choose, and that may be misconstrued as discrimination.  In my opinion, educating the public about the safety of riding with deaf drivers should have been done prior to the launching of this program to increase its acceptance by the public. Pushing something like this to the consumer without a prior education campaign may become the source of several issues. Though many Uber PWD drivers are lauded and given high ratings for their safe driving style, courtesy and good service, it will not save the deaf drivers from undereducated and abusive riders. Training the deaf drivers on how to handle such situations should be in place as well.

Is the program legal in the Philippines?

And there is the question of legality. In Europe and in the US, deaf drivers are allowed to drive commercial vehicles, such as buses, cabs and cargo trucks. While deaf drivers are given licenses to drive in the Philippines, a check with the Land Transportation Office confirmed that deaf drivers here are only given a Non-Professional driver’s license with the restriction code clearly mentioning which type of vehicle the deaf driver is allowed to drive and under which condition the deaf driver is licensed. The Land Transportation Office customer hotline mentioned that there is condition E which means the deaf driver is allowed to drive but only when accompanied by a person of normal hearing. Discrimination? Maybe, maybe not, but it is the law. Deaf drivers are NOT given Professional Driver’s Licenses.

So if the deaf driver’s main line of work is driving for pay, there could be a legal issue with this program by Uber Manila, because deaf drivers, by law, are not allowed to drive commercially.

What do you think?

 

Are we ready for robots teaching autistic children?

Robots teaching autistic children? I was in a seminar sponsored by the Autism Society Philippines on July 19 at the De la Salle University’s Yuchengco Auditorium. The development of next-gen adaptive and assistive technologies for PWDs was the focus of this seminar and two of De Lasalle’s science professors Clement Ong and John Cabibihan were on hand to talk about the research and studies they have done aimed at helping autistic children learn. Both professors have been active in developing practical applications of robots, particularly Cabibihan who has made studies in the use of social robotics for teaching autistic children.

De la Salle professor Clement Ong shares  his discoveries.

In my opinion, there is a great deal to be accomplished to make the use of robots part of mainstream methodologies in the education of autistic children. As the representative of Philhealth mentioned, technology need not be a gadget or anything high tech. It could be as complicated as management software on a smartphone or as basic as a walking stick. Robots teaching autistic children has yet to be seen  to be effective, even in the first-world countries. What is needed are technologies that can be used here and now. What is important is that assistive technology, in whatever form or function, become affordable, available and government-approved.

Persons with Disabilities need emerging technologies that will help integrate them into mainstream society. There exists a very clear cut divide between the disabled and non-disabled and because the disabled are a minority, it is easy to dismiss them. Besides, what is 1.6% of the total population? Very marginal.

However, in the Philippine setting, family ties are usually very strong and in most households that have a PWD in the family, there will be at least two or three persons taking care of the PWD, making the 1.6% ballooning to three or even four times that number. The caretakers of PWDs are just as important stakeholders as the PWDs themselves.

The good news is that PhilHealth has approved the funding for PWDs who need wheelchairs, walking sticks, hearing aids and other similar assistive instruments. If you need to know more about what how to apply to PhilHealth, please go to this website. As of now, hearing aids are covered by PhilHealth, but not cochlear implants. These implants are more efficient and better than hearing aids, but because there is no large demand, the price of one implant is still prohibitive.

Image borrowed from www.technocrazed.com

Challenges to the development of assistive technologies

One of the biggest hurdles to the development of such technologies is the lack of data. PhilHealth, upon approval of the budget amendments for persons with disabilities, needed to conduct their own survey to determine which disability was the most common among the PWDs in the Philippines. It turned out that the highest number of PWDs were the visually challenged. No exact statistics were given. This is the same problem with other groups developing adaptive and assistive technologies; the gap of not know who they should be developing for. One cannot make a dent of a difference if there is no specific niche for which the technology will be used.

How are they fixing this lack of research data

In PWDPhil.com, many have called and asked for assistance regarding the availability of relevant statistics for the PWD community. Sadly, the NCDA admitted that their data was as old as 2010 and were not as updated. There was a request for the Philippine Statistics Office to include certain questions directed at finding out at least how many PWDs were in each household, since a nationwide demographic study is made anyway on a yearly basis. This extra question would be both important and a cost-saver. At the same time, the resulting statistics can be used to extrapolate other relevant data crucial to the development of next-generation adaptive and assistive technologies. Time-to-market of these devices can be greatly lessened and be made available earlier than anticipated.

Many PWDs and their caretakers are praying that such high tech can be made available and affordable to those who need it. More often than not, assistive technologies used by the PWDs end up being used by senior citizens, who hearing, eyesight and health begin to fail in their twilight years. Walkers, canes, wheelchairs and hearing aids eventually become mainstream as the population ages and demand for these devices go up.

This is the very reason that we need to elevate the level of discussions on PWD rights and tech. If we do not continue and sustain the discussions, offline or online, our community will be marginalized and will only be important when politicians need to have bleeding hearts on their side to win elections. The PWD community is not a group to be abused and exploited, it is a community of real, functional and exceptional people who have the right to be seen, heard and consulted.

From ASP event DLSU

Smartphone Accessibility Features For Those With Low Vision

Technology need not be exclusively for the non-disabled because there are smartphone accessibility features which can be used by those with low vision. Depending on the nature of the disability, smartphones can also be used comfortably as there are several smartphone features designed to be used for various disabilities. Continue reading