After hosting Asian Para Games, Indonesia should make disability inclusion a priority

Indonesia successfully hosted the Asian Para Games in October. Not only did Indonesian Para athletes break their medal target like their fellow athletes competing in the Asian Games, the event made disability no longer invisible.

Athletes from Thailand in action during the Asian Para Games 2018.

For many Indonesians, it was probably the first time they had been exposed to people with disabilities and to the different abilities they possess.

Lack of inclusive schools has prevented people with disabilities from sustaining life pathways that would enable them to reach their full capabilities. The special schools have led to segregation and discrimination.

The general public does not understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities to exercise their basic human rights to live independent lives. Lack of accessible infrastructure, public facilities and inclusive policies prevent them from participating on a par with their non-disabled peers.

Hosting the Asian Para Games was a milestone for inclusion in Indonesia. It forced the government to build accessible infrastructure and strengthen the campaign to change attitudes – barriers that have hindered people with disabilities from being included in the life of society.

But the work for disability inclusion should go beyond hosting a sporting event. It needs a continuous sustained effort involving government down to the village level working together with people with disabilities.

An example of this is found in Plembutan village, in Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta. Its administration has included promotion of inclusion of people with disabilities in their village development agenda since 2014.

The village recently hosted the Temu Inklusi (Inclusive Meeting), the third biennial gathering of Disabled People Organisations (DPOs). The meeting brings together DPOs from the eastern and western parts of Indonesia, other civil society organisations and government representatives.

The story of Plembutan village

Plembutan village is located in the district of Gunung Kidul and has 5,000 inhabitants.

The village leaders have been in talks with international organisationsand national DPOs such as SIGAB for a number of years. In 2017, the village released a decree to include vulnerable groups in village development.

Edi Suprianti, the village head, said the decree was to ensure the local village administration and community members include the participation of people with disabilities and change perceptions and attitudes towards disabilities. Not only is the village office now accessible, it regularly organises training and entrepreneurship workshops as a pathway for people with disabilities to live independently.

The village is the only one in Indonesia so far that has introduced inclusive village regulation. This regulation allows Edi to allocate funding from the village annual development budget to develop a model of social protection for people with disabilities. This helps to ensure they can live independently with dignity and respect.

Temu Inklusi gathering at Plembutan village, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Author provided

Disability movement

At least seven of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) closely relate to the enhancement of the rights of persons with disabilities. Among these are social protection, quality education, economic independence, employment, inclusive public facilities and infrastructure and access to justice.

This year’s Temu Inklusi event, jointly organised by the Indonesian Coordinating Ministry for Human Development and Culture and Yogyakarta-based disabled people organisation SIGAB, aimed to contribute to efforts to implement the principles of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and the SDGs.

Disability activism in Indonesia has benefited from Indonesia’s political reform and democratisation. Indonesia started to see the founding of DPOs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. DPOs have been partnering with other civil society organisation and rights activists in influencing significant legal reform.

Indonesia ratified the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in 2011. In 2016, it passed the Disability Rights Law.

The 2016 legislation originally required the Indonesian government to introduce 15 accompanying regulations. These would regulate various aspects of disability inclusion from inclusive public facilities, employment and social welfare to access to justice.

However, the government has now compressed those 15 to seven regulations. These cover planning, implementation and evaluation of the need of people with disabilities, accessible accommodation for legal services, and inclusive education, social welfare, accessible public facilities, incentive and concessions on services to people with disabilities. The law also requires the establishment of a National Disability Commission.

Progress in the drafting of these regulations has been slow as it requires cross-sectoral approach from various government ministries. These include the Ministry of National Development Planning, Ministry of Human Rights and Law, Ministry of Social Services, and Ministry of Public Facilities and Housing.

The Ministry of National Planning recently announced that the government will finally pass the regulation on appropriate accommodation for people with disabilities by the end of the year.

How to move forward?

An important insight from discussions at Temu Inklusi was that enhancing the rights of people with disabilities requires all sectors to work together. Practices at local level, such as in Desa Plembutan, resulted from the village engaging with organisations working in disability sectors.

Indonesia’s decentralisation and the introduction of Village Law in 2015 have given autonomy for villages to plan, prioritise and finance their development agendas based on their individual needs and priorities.

Currently, Indonesia lacks adequate national data on disabilities that might assist in properly planning for the prevalence of certain disabilities and particular needs of individuals. So, devolving responsibility to smaller administrative regions may work well as a strategy, for now.

As the campaigns for presidential and legislative elections have begun, we should look at what candidates are saying and plan to do to fulfil the unmet needs of people with disabilities.

Author: Dr Dina Afrianty, Research fellow at La Trobe University and President of AIDRAN

This article is originally published by The Conversation


It’s time for Indonesians to say goodbye to the ‘supercrip’

Asian Para Games athlete Maria Goreti Samiati. Photo by Mohammad Ayudha for Antara.

Life for people with disability in Indonesia is highly challenging. They face poor accessibility to public facilities, transportation, and buildings, weak social security support, and patronising public attitudes. One of the most common public perspectives is to view people with disabilities as somehow extraordinary or deserving of compliments.

This way of viewing people with disabilities as “supercrips” is pervasive in Indonesia. It is consistent with a view of disability that sees people with disability as “others”, different from the majority. According to this view, any artistic, academic or sporting products or achievements produced by people with disability are considered extraordinary and worthy of effusive praise.

This type of attitude can also result in people with disability being praised for just going about their daily lives. It is not uncommon to hear comments like: “Even though she is deaf, she can still take great photographs”, or “He uses a wheelchair but he got the top marks in the maths exam”.

During the 2018 Asian Para Games, for example, a stranger approached me and shook my hand, exclaiming, “You are awesome, I am amazed”. He had never met me before. All I had been doing was walking through the grounds of the event.

Academic Jan Grue notes(link is external) that the result of this view is that “the greater the achievement and the greater the impairment, the more impressive the supercrip.” Even if an artistic product has not been appraised or displayed alongside other artworks in a curated environment, as long as it is produced by a person with disability, it is considered to be an incredible or valuable work. Grue summarises this notion with the formula: (S)upercriphood = (A)chievement x (I)mpairment.

This notion of the “supercrip” interacts closely with perspectives that view people with disability as objects of charity. A charity perspective might see the government, with good intentions, providing opportunities for people with disability to participate in creating art. But often the end results are lauded without objective or professional judgment. Unlike other artworks, which are curated based on philosophical, technical or theoretical considerations, artworks of people with disability are often curated based on being produced by people with disability. Disability becomes the prominent focus, rather than the artwork.

This view is dominant in Indonesian society. I have visited many areas of Indonesia where people with disability are creating art but their works are simultaneously considered the result of “leisure activities”, rather than serious artistic endeavour, while also being considered worthy of high praise. Many government ceremonies are accompanied by dances, readings, or music performed by people with disability, which are then given excessive or exaggerated applause. They are judged according to their disabilities rather than the quality of their work. They are assumed to be incapable because of their disability, so the simple act of creating art is deemed worthy of praise.

Because of this perspective, it is not surprising that many non-disabled people see people with disability as objects of inspiration. The involvement of people with disability in art is primarily intended to give pleasure to the non-disabled people, resulting in excessive admiration and pity. This is what is known as “inspiration porn”.(link is external) Disability is presented for its ability to satisfy or provide pleasure to the non-disabled, not as something that is normal.

The same patterns are also observed in sport. While the 2018 Asian Para Games was a high profile opportunity to introduce and educate people about disability and diversity, in reality, people with disability were again treated as objects of pity or sources of inspiration for non-disabled people. National daily newspaper Kompas dedicated its front page to the Games, stating in bold font: “They Inspire Us”.


The front page of Kompas on 6 October 2018.


Similarly, in an official video, President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla said that people with disability were an inspiration to Asian society. In fact, the tagline for the biggest sporting event in Asia was: “The Inspiring Spirit and Energy of Asia”, and the official Para Games social media accounts shared updates with the hashtag #parainspirasi.

Inspiration porn rests on an underlying assumption that people with disability are weak and not able to do what non-disabled people can do. When people with disability achieve sporting success, it’s surprising and impressive for non-disabled people. Viewing people with disability as an inspiration actually subordinates them and singles them out as “the other”.

The works and achievements of people with disabilities are not considered as objects or achievements in their own right but the result of the efforts of a person with disability. This puts the emphasis on the disability and results in excessive praise or people with disability being used to satisfy the inspirational needs of non-disabled people.

This is the great challenge for disability rights activists in Indonesia. It is time to do away with the idea of the supercrip. People with disability are not superhuman or sources of inspiration, they are just people and part of Indonesia’s diverse society. Everybody has their own different characteristics, whether they relate to religion, sexual orientation, race, language, or disability.


Author: Slamet Thohari, lecturer and researcher with the Center for Disability Studies and Services at Brawijaya University and the Indonesian Chair of AIDRAN

This article is originally published by Indonesia at Melbourne