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KSIxChange Discussion #26: Urgency of support systems in the implementation of socio-economic policies for people with disabilities in the pandemic era of Covid-19

On Thursday 30 July, KSIxChange hosted an online discussion on the topic: ‘Urgency of support systems in the implementation of socio-economic policies for people with disabilities in the pandemic era of Covid-19.’ The forum brought together leaders and advocates working in the disability sector in various regions of Indonesia as well as Tricia Malowney OAM, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Independent Advisory Council member, who provided an Australian perspective. AIDRAN Indonesia Chair, Slamet Thohari (PSLD, Universitas Brawijaya) moderated the event and facilitated audience questions. Over 170 people attended via Zoom with a further 130 participating online through The Conversation Indonesia’s YouTube channel which livestreamed the event. English language subtitles and Juru Bahasa Isyarat (JBI) sign language were provided.

The discussion began with an acknowledgement that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the lives and livelihoods of people with disabilities. A key reason for this is due to the requirement to socially distance which, for many people with disabilities, has diminished earning capacity. Mr Thohari advised those in attendance that, according to a study conducted by colleagues in the NGO disability advocacy network, a high proportion of people with disabilities have lost 50-80% of their income due to the pandemic, and 24% reported that they were now facing economic hardship because of this. Many panellists addressed this issue describing how people with disabilities have adapted to these challenging circumstances, however, panellists also acknowledged that a more coordinated and wide-ranging assistance program is needed.  

Tricia Malowney OAM was the first to present commencing with her own story of having to pivot her face-to-face training program for entrepreneurs with disabilities to online in early March. This was a positive experience for Tricia and her clients with many reporting that they enjoy participating from home. Tricia then discussed how Australian State and Federal governments have approached supporting people with disabilities during the pandemic. Tricia detailed, in particular, how Australia’s NDIS financially assists people with disabilities, thereby supporting people with disabilities to participate in the economy and contribute to the wellbeing of the country. Tricia’s presentation concluded by highlighting that the work arrangements that people with disabilities have been seeking for a long time (such as flexible working hours, the ability to work from home, and remote attendance at meetings) are, not only becoming possible, but are desirable in the pandemic era. Tricia was not surprised that it was people with disabilities who foresaw the benefits of these arrangements, advising those in attendance, ‘if you want to know how to do things more effectively and efficiently, ask a person with a disability.’ 

Next, Ms Eva Rahmi Kasim, from Indonesia’s Ministry of Social Affairs, presented on behalf of Mr Harry Hikmat. Ms Kasim discussed the measures that the Ministry has implemented to support people with disabilities during Covid-19. Ms Kasim acknowledged that, due to Indonesia’s lack of long-term and comprehensive safety net for people with disabilities specifically, to date, incident management measures such as cash and emergency shelters, have represented the primary form of support provided by the Government. Since the pandemic began, over 200,000 people with disabilities have received support, however, this is only a small proportion of the over 25 million people with disabilities in Indonesia. Ms Kasim also discussed the Ministry’s Sheltered Workshop program which serves as a space to build the capacity of people with disabilities to be economically independent and socially protected. The program has adopted a new ‘social enterprise’ focus.

Four expert panellists working in disability advocacy then responded to Ms Malowney and Ms Kasim’s presentations as well as questions posed by Mr Thohari. Ms Yustitia Arief, founder and chair of AUDISI, a disability inclusion and advocacy institute based in Tangerang, was the first to respond. Ms Arief identified the critical need for better data collecting process to be developed so that people with disabilities can receive the support they are entitled to. Ms Arief also called for a collaborative approach between the National Disability Commission (KND) and local governments. 

Dr Antoni Tsaputra from the Development and Planning Agency, Padang, West Sumatra was next to address the audience. Dr Tsaputra began by complimenting the way Australia’s NDIS enables people with disabilities themselves to determine the service they need and which provider they choose. Dr Tsaputra then discussed the various ways in which the Social Ministry has provided assistance to people with disabilities during Covid-19. The Ministry has generally operated off a ‘poverty alleviation’ model, however, Dr Tsaputra suggested that this approach, which relies on an income test, is not the best indicator of poverty for people with disabilities because people with disabilities have much higher living costs than others. Dr Tsaputra called for a disability-inclusive approach to aid. 

Next, Ranie Hapsari from the YAKKUM Rehabilitation Center discussed the relief people with disabilities have received in Yogyakarta and the surrounding districts which have faced many local lockdowns. Ms Hapsari outlined how people with disabilities have lost income due to the pandemic and many were unable to receive government support due to not being registered in the Government’s database. Since the pandemic began, YAKKUM has been working to mitigate issues caused by insufficient and unsynchronised data. They have verified the data for 3,500 people with disabilities and have distributed social assistance, however, Ms Hapsari advised that better data collection policies and guidelines will enable more people with disabilities to access support. 

The final respondent was Joni Yulianto from Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice 2 (AIPJ2). Mr Yulianto began by recognising that, in relation to the pandemic, the disaster response programs have been more reactive than proactive or preventative. This reactionary approach has, according to Mr Yulianto, caused long delays in the provision of assistance. Mr Yulianto would like to see local and national governments take a bold approach to develop a comprehensive system that utilises Indonesia’s vast infrastructure to support people with disabilities in critical times of need.

The webinar concluded with audience questions. KSI hosts thanked panellists for their insightful contributions. 

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